In 2018, 34.9 percent of smartphone users ages 14 and older were paying with their phones at the physical point of sale.

According to eMarketer, mobile commerce is on track to garner 70 percent of all e-commerce transactions by 2020. But smartphones, in particular, continue to play an important role in the customer experience while they shop.

From researching a product and comparing price points to sharing product images with friends and touting in-store buys on social media, mobile devices are helping to define the overall shopping experience. Here, Michael Colaneri, vice president of AT&T global business enterprise solutions, offers his perspective on the current and future state of mobile commerce, the role of smartphones in stores, and the challenges facing his retail clients.

WWD: How is mobile technology changing retailing today?

Michael Colaneri: It is top-of-mind with every client I meet. They want to talk about, particularly senior execs at larger retailers, 5G. But it is more complicated. There is a proficiency attached to the expectation for digital and mobile engagement across the entire experience — particularly once they get the consumer into a brick-and-mortar venue.

It’s changed how consumers behave. For example, it’s common behavior [during a conversation] now to look something up that you may not know. If you haven’t heard of a designer, you can look them up or use your social context to reinforce what you are looking to consume. Meanwhile, ride-sharing is making mobile even more prominent, and further changing consumer behavior — especially at the POS, because with ride shares there isn’t one. The terms are already known. You’re taken to your destination and it’s paid without friction.

Now look at that retail point-of-sale environment where you’re waiting in line, and the security chip on your card takes five seconds — a lifetime — to be approved. So consumers are irritated. Which is why you’re slowly seeing the rollout of capabilities that include just picking up an item and walking out of the store without any cash wrap or check out — independently using your own individual smartphone.

WWD: How are mobile-related “frictions” and other related consumer pain points impacting sales in stores?

M.C.: There aren’t any statistics around loss in that regard. But we know on a website, for example, that if a page doesn’t download within three seconds a consumer moves on. They go somewhere else. So if you translate that expectation to a brick-and-mortar venue I would see that same impatience developing. That goes back to what I was saying before; that there is a proficiency within an expectation for technology. Consumers are getting too used to it. And time is the most valuable commodity.

At the NRF [Big Show last month], every chief executive officer talked about the industry service providers as problem solvers. They’re no longer talking about what merchandise they need to carry or how to differentiate their brand, or how to do something different in this store versus that store. They are talking about how can they solve problems for consumers.

Regardless of your segment, if you’re in apparel and looking at technology — no matter what you are selling — the challenge becomes: What problem am I solving for the customer? And the fundamental common thread is always convenience and time.

WWD: What’s in the pipeline as far as technology? What’s going on that retail executives need to be aware of this year?

M.C.: Where we have the most traction is certainly in what I would call the “foundational digital architecture.” Instead of solving an individual problem with a point solution of an additional feature, we’re looking across the whole continuum to digitally enable the relationship between the consumer and the retailer.

With applications, I see artificial intelligence getting the most traction right now. A year ago you were starting to see some practical applications for that and the most common sector. Now we are seeing applications in apparel and furniture, and AI in automobiles and a variety of different sectors. I think there will be a further proliferation in the next 12 months.

WWD: And the focus will be more strategic than tactical?

M.C.: Yes. You’ll see retailers start taking legacy things out of this environment and building something that is more self-funded through the technology itself. Retailers are stepping away from their legacy approach to technology and trying to figure out: “How do I run this whole gamut of problem-solving, brand differentiation and technology investments?” And there has to be a return over time.

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