Mobile is a mess,” said Forrester’s Senior Analyst Joanna O’Connell during last week’s OMMA RTB event. Her panel of agency execs pretty much agreed. Limitations in the creative palette of the small screen, platform fragmentation, and limited tracking and metrics are frustrating everyone, especially as the they feel the need to invest in the “next big thing.”
One major way for post-PC platforms to become a more palatable solution for media buyers is for mobile to stop being just mobile. Lumping together two very different platforms, smartphones and tablets, in most metrics around the field was an early marriage of convenience that needs to end. Deloitte predicted that 2013 will be the last year the industry conflates ad performance, scale and conversion metrics as simply “mobile.” None too soon.
As a recently released study of cross-platform behaviors from Adobe makes clear, the use cases, sensibilities and effectiveness of the two devices are different in ways that marketers need to understand and embrace in their targeting. “We believe tablets are a more intuitive shopping device that lends itself more to completing a transaction,” says Adobe Senior Product Marketing Manager Dave Dickson. The company's survey, fielded in late November and early December, the height of the holiday shopping season, found that 44% of tablet owners use their device for shopping, compared to 20% of smartphone owners.
But the central difference between the two devices is that the larger screen leads people to the buy button. Among those mobile users who do use their devices to shop, 55% of tablet owners say they purchase products on the device, while 28% of smartphone owners do. Adobe, which makes an app publishing platform, likes to underscore the special role of apps vs. mobile Web use for device-based shopping. Asking consumers to project their behaviors into the future, 60% of current tablet shoppers said they expected to increase their use of apps for shopping in the next year, and even 25% of non-shoppers on tablets expected they would.
Dickson contends that apps tend to be the environments where customers engage more deeply with retail brands and ultimately tend to convert to purchase. Web browsing on tablet and smartphone tends to be about retailer discovery, while apps are about immersing oneself in the product catalog. 70% of tablet shoppers and 68% of smartphone shoppers say they tend to download apps connected to brands they already know, and 67% on both devices say they only use apps from their favorite stores.
In fact, distinguishing between tablet and smartphone targets is important to the messaging. Consumers shopping on both devices say that, foremost, they look for money-saving offers from retailers (52% on tablets, 67% on smartphones). But the next most popular feature for tablet owners (49%) are images and slideshows of the products. Tablets are for luxuriating with the merchandise. On smartphones, 60% of shoppers say store locators are most important, followed by ability to make purchases (58%), couponing (57%) and support for loyalty programs (56%).
There is a lot of evidence that the personal social channel is among the most effective ways for retailers’ mobile apps to get discovered. The Adobe survey found that among tablet shoppers, 89% cited friends as the greatest influence on what they buy via their devices. The same was true for tablet non-shoppers (79%), and for smartphone shoppers (67%) and smartphone non-shoppers (77%). Fairly close behind among mobile shopping influences, however, were email communications from companies, online ads, Facebook and online videos. Clearly, in order to drive mobile shopping behaviors, retailers need to take a multichannel approach and make customers aware at every turn that a device-based experience is available to them. While app stores are still the leading source of discovery for users (42%), 32% say they are finding out about apps from company Web sites.
One of the earliest of users' mobile behaviors that carriers noticed in the days before smartphones was what we might call the “look at this" effect. People tended to show off the cool new thing on their devices to others. That activity is still alive. Adobe found that 53% of people share opinions about apps in person.
Curiously, only 22% of people say they find out about apps in a retailer’s store. Arguably, that is the one place a merchant most wants to engage users. Letting a user know a valuable app is available from the brand in-store can be the best defense against showrooming. It puts the consumer into the brand’s digital loop so that even if customers don't make the buy on the spot, the retailer has the opportunity to capture them later on the Web or device.
Dickson says that 2013 will be a year when many retailers start focusing on tablet deployments. I think many of these companies need to focus on cross-screen synchronization. People are making purchase decisions in increments and across devices, from Web to tablet to smartphone, in different places and times. Loyal consumers may be leaning back and shopping on their tablets during prime time, but they need an easy way to push that information to the smartphone they bring into the store. Likewise, a product they discover and contemplate in store they will want to research on the desktop or on the tablet. The next big stage in learning to target different content to the various screens is allowing the consumer to knit these experiences together more easily.