The dos and don’ts of mobile app development within retail

There are many benefits to offering smart checkout at your store. Here’s a look at what it is, why you should consider it, and how you can develop a great smart checkout strategy.

The dos and don’ts of mobile app development within retail


Source: NCR Retail Transformation Study, September 2020, n=3,000



Cropped shot of young Asian woman holding shopping basket and checking her shopping list on smartphone while grocery shopping in a supermarket


Mobile phones have become a sort of retail “safety net” for consumers. They provide insight into what people are buying, expedite shopping and even help users determine when to abandon their carts for a better deal or experience.

An NCR Retail Transformation Study revealed that three in five consumers use their mobile phones regularly when shopping. Among those consumers, one in three describe themselves as heavy in-store mobile users.





Source: NCR Retail Transformation Study, September 2020, n=3,000

 Consumer in-store mobile behavior

So, what are these consumers doing and how can retailers innovate to capture more wallet share using mobile technologies?

There are four major behaviors NCR has identified that stand out in retail consumption. The first, most prominent behavior is looking up product information. This includes searching for different versions of the product and comparing efficacy. The second major behavior consumers exhibit is comparing prices. This can include checking price listings among different retailers, but more often than not, it involves identifying cheaper prices via e-commerce sites like Amazon. Other activities identified by NCR include searching for and downloading coupons and looking for insipration from friends and family via platforms like social media.





Source: NCR Retail Transformation Study, September 2020, n=3,000

 The mobile retail triad

Though there are a ton of amazing applications for mobile retail, most, if not all, successful applications have three things in common. NCR calls this the “Mobile Retail Triad” and it’s made up of the three fundamental factors that lead to successful mobile retail executions: value to the consumer, in-store context and simplicity of use.





Figure 1: Example screenshot of UIPath's visual workflow design screen.

This triad is crucial because every time a consumer checks their phone in-store (which roughly occurs at least once every 10 minutes)  there’s a chance that consumer will find an alternate purchase option.

Retailers don’t have to own every aspect of the mobile experience, but they do have to mitigate the risk of cart abandonment due to one of these three factors.

Let’s break down the three factors and propose some activations that could really benefit both retailers and consumers.

 Value to consumer

First and foremost, retailer mobile executions have to offer real value to the consumer.

This means going beyond novelty to solve real friction points, like helping to decide what products will best fit the customer’s lifestyle. A fantastic example would be helping consumers more easily identify vegan and/or gluten-free options in a grocery store. Consumers often look to third-party options to solve these kinds of problems. The challenge is that third parties take consumers outside the store’s digital ecosystem. Retailers can provide exceptional value for consumers and reduce the risk of cart abandonment by connecting those kinds of information sources directly to their in-store inventory.

This can even provide great insight and loyalty value by allowing retailers to connect shopping interests with push notifications when new specialty products fitting a customer’s lifestyle hit the shelves.

Another example of value is being able to leverage a customer’s previous purchase history to help identify related or even complementary products. Think about fit guides. Not every brand has the same standard, so clothing retailers could easily help a customer translate one brand’s sizing to another’s. This removes the customer’s need to spend time hunting for the right size in a brand they might not be familiar with and decreases the time they have to spend in the dressing room.


Second, context is key in any particular shopping scenario. From our research into how shoppers use mobile, in-store context is really about two things: choice and access to associate assistance.

When we talk about choice, we’re really talking about helping the customer understand what’s available without having to spend an adverse amount of time hunting for what they want. In this use-case, so-called “endless aisle” applications are incredibly valuable because they go beyond what the customer can see on the shelves or on the rack and encompass the retailer’s total inventory. The key to “endless aisle” is inventory transparency. If you want to offer your entire item file to the consumer, you need to be able to get items to them quickly. This could mean enabling alerts to prompt an associate in the back room to walk the item out from off-shelf inventory. It could mean enabling “click-to-purchase” functionality that delivers the item to a customer’s home. Each solution takes the context of shopping in-aisle and provides the same consumer satisfaction as being able to put items into their carts instantly onsite.

The other context that is incredibly important is associate assistance. Due to the pandemic and even a shift in preference toward self-service in general, customers don’t really love to have associates buzzing over them. This is true even in previously high-touch luxury shopping experiences. However, we know from shopper-intercept studies that consumers still want the option of associate assistance. This is where mobile can play a huge positive role. For instance, you can use geo-location, beacons and/or mobile web applications to enable specific mobile states that activate when a customer arrives to a store. These states can enable a “push to connect” function that allows consumers to ask questions and even summon an associate to their location in the store. This makes great use of your associates on hand and allows customers to feel like they have more control over their shopping experience. It also provides a net satisfaction benefit to the retailer.


Simplicity is also crucial. This means identifying shortcuts. More specifically, it involves taking the activities that typically cause the most friction and making them seamless and fun. There’s no better example than payments. Though the payment process is arguably the most important step in a purchase, no consumer loves whipping out their credit card or cash.

This is where mobile really shines. Retailers have taken cues from online experiences with “one-click” functionality. A great example is Scan & Go, which combines two activities: placing an item in a cart and scanning it for checkout. This is a perfect example of how you can reduce friction while enabling a simple mobile experience.

Another great example is mobile payments. Don’t just consider the ability to “tap to pay,” but all the other steps associated with transactions, like loyalty enablement, coupon redemption and digital receipts. The critical piece of this type of simplicity is that it’s self-reinforcing. Yes, it’s a new behavior, but consumers instantly recognize the ability to save time and steps and are more likely to default to this mobile behavior again and again.

 Getting started

So how do you make this happen? Most retailers struggle to align systems that might not have been originally designed to work together, like inventory tracking and mobile marketing applications. The good news is that many retailers have still been successful in mobile despite these challenges. They all share the same three characteristics.

First, they start simple. They look at their current mobile architecture and see what they can easily implement–like enabling mobile payments. They use these attainable measures to introduce retailer value, context and simplicity to shoppers’ mobile behaviors.

Second, they partner up. This can include working with existing technologies they’re already connected to as well as seeking outside assistance in planning and road-mapping their mobile executions.

Finally, they create a continual feedback loop with their consumers. Mobile doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate. In fact, many of your best consumers would likely be delighted to participate in limited pilots to help you test and refine your system.

 The good news & the better news

To wrap things up, there are really two things retailers should know about in-store mobile experiences. The good news is that mobile is here to stay and provides immense value on both sides of the counter. The better news is that shoppers are still exploring these kinds of experiences, and this can dovetail with your mobile journey.

The key to the game, as always, is to start smart with critical insights about what your customers value, the context around how they use their mobile phones in-store, and how you can simplify their shopping experiences.