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Experts: Using mobile technology to enhance the dining and shopping experience

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Yelp Inc.)

Mobile technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in the lives of consumers, who are looking for more ways to interact with people and brands using their mobile devices. More and more, retailers and restaurants are making use of technology in their physical locations that allows them to enhance the experiences customers are having when they dine or shop.

SmartBrief talked to Maya Mikhailov, chief marketing officer of GPShopper, an integrated mobile platform that helps businesses like food retailers and restaurants build mobile applications that enhance features like commerce and loyalty and creates a “remote control for the brand,” and Ramsey Masri, CEO of OtherLevels, a digital marketing platform that helps mobile marketers engage mobile audiences effectifely. Mikhailov talked about the advantages of technology that uses mobile to interact with customers while they’re in stores, which is where most transactions take place, and three trends in particular that have emerged through the use of such technology.

Shopper education

Mikhailov said that technology like push notification and geotargeting has made engaging loyal customers outside of the store easier for retailers and restaurants. For restaurant chains in particular, interactions like push notifications can help drive repeat visits among customers at different locations. Mikhailov cited Ruth’s Chris Steak House as an example, pointing to the chain’s digital loyalty program, which engages diners like business travelers when they are near a restaurant location they might not regularly dine at.

“It allows for more engagement inside the restaurant and it allows them to continue a conversation outside of it,” she said.

However, restaurants and retailers should not use technology for the sake of using technology when trying to engage their shoppers in stores, according to Mikhailov.

“Think about your customers’ journey and think about how you’re providing them value,” she said.

For Masri, the key for retailers and restaurants is to engage with diners and shoppers based on data about their preferences, behavior and spending patterns. And focusing on the most loyal set of customers is most effective.

“Focus the bulk of marketing assets on the opted-in, already-engaged customers, because they’re the most valuable to the franchise and a business’s success,” Masri said.

Enhancing that education through mobile

Mikhailov said that technology allows restaurants and retailers to have more meaningful conversations with their customers.

“Print is sort of a one-way conversation,” she said. “But now thanks to the data and thanks to the fact that apps are so interactive, they’re able to have these two-way conversations where customers are able to set preferences on their mobile devices and retailers…are able to respond to those preferences.”

For retailers, in-store mobile applications that use technology like beacons help engage customers while they’re in the store, Mikhailov said. For Lunds & Byerlys, an upscale Twin Cities supermarket chain, she said such technology has helped incite more participation from shoppers in the retailer’s mobile features like shopping lists and targeted circulars and in in-store events. The result is a better shopping experience for Lunds & Byerlys customers. And according to Mikhailov, the best results are achieved when retailers make use of multiple channels to send different types of messages that help create a better in-store shopping experience.

“Use multiple channels…because the consumers are touching multiple touch points,” she said.

Mobile technology gives retailers and restaurants a way to enhance consumers’ education, but it also gives brands a way to learn more about their customers, too, Masri said. Because today’s consumers almost always have their mobile devices in-hand, mobile interactions provide restaurants and retailers with an opportunity to collect data about where shoppers are, what their preferences are and what type of interactions they’re likely to engage with.

“That data is a great source of information for marketers to craft campaigns, messaging strategies, promotions and other initiatives,” Masri said. “The goal for marketers is to create seamless, satisfying experiences between offline, online and in-store marketing activations”

Today’s on-demand economy

Mikhailov called today’s economy an on-demand one in which shoppers want to do things how they want to do them and when they want to do them. Much like Uber, consumers expect that on-demand service when they go to restaurants and stores. For example, Mikhailov said restaurants are enhancing their apps with features that allow diners to get in live for a table before they even get to the restaurant.

Mikhailov used Chili’s as another example of how in-store technology can enhance customers’ experiences with brands. Tablets at the tables allow diners to pull up their loyalty information, informing them about whether they qualify for any rewards or spurring additional purchases by offering points for trying items they’ve never had before. Such an interaction allows for extra digital authority in the restaurant space, Mikhailov said.

It is important for restaurants and retailers to realize that consumers want these interactions when they are in the store, for the most part, Mikhailov said, especially in the food and beverage space as dietary preferences change and people want to know more about their food.

But it is also important to realize that in-store technology is not a replacement for human beings, she said.

“People still want to have interactions and good customer service experiences,” Mikhailov said.

“Don’t over-message mobile customers,” Masri said. “Find the balance that keeps them engaged and satisfied without interrupting their busy lives or being perceived as intrusive.”

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