By  on June 9, 2016

Just as retailers are getting the hang of incorporating smartphones into the physical shopping experience, the tech world has been developing another tool affecting the digital-physical divide: the smartwatch.But while the mobile phone has been lauded for its potential to facilitate a sale, the smartwatch looks, for now at least, to be a key tool in building customer loyalty, according to recent research commissioned by GPShopper.GPShopper, which builds custom apps for retailers such as Steve Madden and Bebe, worked with research firm YouGov to survey consumers about shopping with an Apple Watch. They found that rather than making impulse purchases, customers would prefer to use an Apple Watch for coupons and loyalty programs.Researchers surveyed 2,037 adults online and found that 23 percent of Americans would consider buying the next version of the Apple Watch. Of those consumers, 41 percent would most likely engage with a brand’s Apple Watch app if they could get coupons, and 32 percent would engage if they could access customer loyalty programs.A quarter of consumers were worried that a purchase would be an impulse buy, so they wouldn’t make a purchase using an Apple Watch, while 63 percent wouldn’t make a purchase of more than $100. One in five said that making a purchase on an Apple Watch would be the same as making a payment through their phone.“We see that people who would consider buying a nearly $300 Apple Watch are not turning around and using it to make other big purchases over $100,” said GPShopper cofounder and chief marketing officer Maya Mikhailov.In addition to loyalty programs, ways to enhance the customer shopping experience with an Apple Watch include checking inventory or getting an alert when something is back in stock (31 percent), contacting customer service (24 percent) and requesting a salesperson while they are in the store (20 percent). High-earning customers, meaning those who earn more than $80,000, specifically wanted to access customer loyalty programs (42 percent).Just like with smartphones, brands that want to engage shoppers using an Apple Watch, Mikhailov said, “need to figure out how to make the device part of the bigger mobile experience they are giving customers digitally and in stores.”The Apple Watch offers a number of possible applications in the physical realm. San Francisco’s de Young museum in March introduced an Apple Watch app that used iBeacon technology to pinpoint exact user location. This showed users specific details on pieces in the exhibits, based on their location, and connected to audio recordings (if users were wearing headphones) that coincided with their exploration of the museum’s galleries.But although the technology is increasingly more complementary to incorporating the Apple Watch into the physical shopping journey, it has yet to become as ubiquitous as the iPhone.To that end, Apple has introduced more styles that let the wearer customize the watch, including a collaboration with Hermes. All eyes will be on Apple’s developer conference in San Francisco next week to see if there will be updates to, or new designs for, the Apple Watch.In April, Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook said that unit sales of the 1-year-old Apple Watch met expectations in the quarter, and that the company had learned a lot during Apple’s first year selling the watch. In a March event, Apple introduced new watch bands and the new $299 starting price. Cook has called it an “increasingly essential part of users’ lives.”But time will tell if it will be comparable to the iPhone and its increasing role in the shopper journey. Mikhailov offered a word of caution.“Retailers have to avoid falling into the same traps they fell into when they tried to make the move from desktop to mobile. Recreating a catalogue on the Apple Watch is never going to be an effective way of bringing engagement to the device,” Mikhailov said. “Whoever cracks the code first on bringing worthwhile Apple Watch apps to retail will get a huge boost in brand engagement and ultimately at the bottom line.”

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