The New Rules of Retail: The Mobile Device as Intelligent Sales Assistant

Andy Austin
3 min readJul 24, 2020

I’ve spent the past several weeks looking at the challenges to retail caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and exploring some innovative ways for retailers to survive and thrive in this new normal.

You see, people are looking for a retail hero right now.

As I discussed in a recent Retail TouchPoints article, in responding to the pandemic, just putting tape on the floor, and plexiglass banners, and admonitions about how scary it is to be there, isn’t nearly enough.

You might as well put up signs around your store saying “Fallout Shelter.”

Instead, think about the kind of rock star you could be if you managed to create a calming, pleasant, efficient environment where people feel rewarded for coming in despite the risks.

The point is, in the past, your customer might have been willing to have a 20-minute conversation with a salesperson in a high-touch retail environment, as long as he smiled, made eye contact, and exhibited a desire to want to know the customer.

But with the threat of COVID-19, that interaction has to be quicker and feel more efficient, because that kind of conversation is now perceived to be dangerous. You have to cut to the chase — but you have to do so without losing the thrill of discovery, giving the customer a reason to be in the store that goes beyond basic SKU fulfillment.

And the shopper’s own mobile device can help you gather the information you need to transform that conversation.

Consider a shopping app that allows your customer to enter profile and preference information, then view facts and differentiators about products, along with a list of compatible items, all while creating a browsing record — so that when the customer arrives in the store, the salesperson can view that record at a glance and avoid making the customer repeat the hours she’s already spent exploring the brand.

What’s the best example in the world of that kind of intelligent sales assistant? Tinder.

The user just swipes on options to get right to what she’s interested in, creating a browsing record as she goes, providing her sizing and preferences — and the retailer understands exactly what she’s looking for when she enters the store.

It’s time for a Tinder for retail.

And that kind of app is an easier sell than it’s ever been before. “We can’t wait for you to come back to our newly reopened, safe, clean stores. If you would just take a few minutes to look at what’s available at your local store, we can promise that we’ll have a better experience waiting for you. And by the way, we can get you around the queue if you’ll just spend five minutes telling us what you’re looking for.”

It’s about treasuring customer data and making it a key part of the sales experience.

It’s about respecting the shopper’s time and reducing anxieties.

It’s about offering an opportunity to share desires and enhance emotion build anticipation before even leaving for the store.

It’s about understanding actionable insights and turning the conversation around, so you’re able to respond to the shopper, predict her needs, and give your salesperson a tool that creates the next best action in real time, rather than making the shopper do all the work.

It’s about helping the salesperson turn the tables and make the shopper the star of the show.

Because when a shopper arrives at your store, that visit is a single moment in a series of brand interactions, online, in-app, and in-store — so why, when they walk into your store, does it always start from square one? Why don’t we already know them when they walk in? That’s always been a valid question, but it’s a lot more urgent today.

Next week, we’ll look at some more innovative ways to leverage technology to shrink the physical distance that must now exist between us.

In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me directly here, or click here to download our white paper on responding to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.



Andy Austin

A geek with a retail operations and customer experience background