Banning mobile phones from shops is the last thing that retailers want to do

Nick Booth
173280601 300x225 Banning mobile phones from shops is the last thing that retailers want to do

(Getty Images)

The now infamous Sainsbury’s checkout lady who refused to serve a customer while she talked on her mobile phone has clearly pleased a lot of people, if reaction in the media reflects public opinion. Most retailers, however, are trying to encourage people to use their phones and their iPads in their stores. They’re laying on free Wi-Fi, giving you access to their own systems and allowing you to download videos and apps. Anything that keeps you in their stores has got to be good, they argue.

When a store like Selfridges spends a fortune revamping its shoe department, it can encounter a new problem that mobiles can actually help with. When staff are rushed off their feet to cope with demand, people have to wait ages to ask simple questions about shoe sizes, colours and availability.

Some retailers have started to let you look it up for yourself, using one of their interactive terminals, says Annette Tarlton of Star Micronics (which provides the terminals). The logical progression is to let you log onto their system with your own device. If you have an iPad, smartphone or laptop, you can hop on their Wi-Fi and access their system.

Shops are pushing much more information at you, via your smart phone and your iPads, so you don’t have to speak to the staff. You can use your mobile phone to download videos, production descriptions and other appetite whetting information from a new type of electronic tag from French company Store Electronic Systems.

Now, thanks to innovations like QR codes and near field communication (NFC) you can literally tap pages of background on the product from a device on the shelf.

In London’s Oxford Circus at the moment there’s free Wi-Fi available to everyone, the logic being that people are more likely to want to hang around the area if they can tweet from there.

Apps like Box and (which create virtual changing rooms where the image of a garment is superimposed on your picture) allow people to try clothes on more easily. Thanks to Wi-Fi they can send the picture to their friends and get a second opinion.

Meanwhile, at the street market, stall holders are using mobile phones as a customer service tool too. New software from Handpoint allows you to use your mobile phone to accept credit card payments, at a fraction of the cost of a credit card machine. Now anyone can afford to take VISA or Mastercard, whether they’re running a stall at the Village Fete or at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Amazingly, the mobile phone is becoming the shopping centre of choice for many people says a report from investment bank GP Bullhound, which claims 37 per cent of smartphone shoppers are buying clothes and fashion is the second fastest growing ecommerce category. Which is why Primark signed a deal with ASOS to help it shift more clothes through the mobile channel.

There are some useful sounding apps on the way. If you’ve ever found yourself wandering around a shopping centre without a clue where to find, say, a shoe shop, a new mobile app called Udozi promises to help you find it. It claims to list one million products in 170 shops. Not many in Kingston though, but hopefully it will improve.

The SportsDirect system pushes offers and discounts to anyone who wanders within range of its Wi-Fi.

Rapide has just launched an app, 66099, which is a phone number that allows you to rant or rave about any brand from your mobile phone. That feedback is translated and passed onto the brand.

At Marks & Spencer you can now use your smartphone to locate those difficult to find items on your shopping list, so you don’t have to track down a shop assistant.

Sainsbury’s check out lady might not approve, but more customers are going to bring their mobiles to the shops.

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