Solving The Empowered Mobile Shopper

As retail and e-commerce executives take a collective breath and look back on a holiday shopping season that saw revenue growth in-store and online, they will no doubt be contemplating how in the coming year to best appeal to consumers who have turned mobile devices into the performance-enhancing drug of the shopping game.

Consumers used phones and tablets more than ever before during the supercharged shopping period that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And the change means that retailers need to redefine how they attract and engage shoppers both online and offline.

There is plenty of evidence that retailers have a ways to go. Consider a recent study by Google and others that found that two-thirds of shoppers looking for information while in a brick-and-mortar store were unable to find the information they wanted.

Retailers who seize on the opportunities that the new mobile shopper brings have that rare chance to build a competitive advantage against both brick-and-mortar outlets and online behemoths like Amazon. Specifically, to become mobile trailblazers, retailers should:

  • Ensure that store locators are easy to use on mobile sites and apps.

  • Install beacons that allow in-store shoppers to opt in to receive relevant recommendations and coupons.

  • Create systems that allow shoppers to track in-store inventory, whether they are on the couch at home or strolling the aisles of a store.

  • Add capabilities that allow shoppers to find out-of-stock items at other nearby stores. Or better yet, let them buy from their phones and ship to their homes.

  • Consider the role of cart abandonment in low conversion rates on mobile and devise relevant and personalized notifications that will prompt a purchase.

  • Create a mobile experience that provides search, navigation, personalization and recommendations that are relevant to each individual shopper. What good is a beautiful mobile site on which no one can find anything?

  • Build the ability to understand a single consumer’s intent across devices.

  • Design systems that account for all customer signals and not just signals from customers who sign in to their sites. (For e-commerce sites that BloomReach analyzed, fewer than 1.5 percent of visitors logged in.)

It's a long list, but here's why it's important: Mobile devices have placed unprecedented power in consumers’ hands and all indications are that they are delighting in wielding it. Those reports of disappointing shopping crowds on Black Friday? Why would a mobile-empowered shopper let a retailer tell him or her when and where to go shopping?

“In general, I think the concept of Black Friday, Cyber Monday -- I think these things are fleeting,’’ says Mike Mansbach, CEO of PunchTab, a Silicon Valley company that works with retailers and brands to help them connect with consumers across different channels. “It’s almost insulting to think that consumers have been taught to wait for inexpensive prices once a year and that they will respond to those things in droves.”

Instead, companies need to connect with customers year-round. They need to understand the context in which consumers are coming to them and on what devices -- all of which is made possible by the always-connected mobile world.

It's a two-way street: The retailer wants to know something about the consumer’s preferences. The consumer wants to know what the retailer does and doesn’t have in stock -- in-store and online. If you have any doubt that consumers are rapidly becoming more enamored of mobile, consider these 2014 holiday shopping season statistics. IBM reported that in the early shopping days, mobile sales were up 27.2 percent over a year earlier. For the entire two-month holiday season, mobile accounted for 22.6 percent of all e-commerce sales, an annual increase of 27.2 percent, according to IBM.

Our data shows that the percentage of total e-commerce revenue generated by orders on smartphones was significantly higher on key shopping days this year compared to last year. For instance, on Cyber Monday, the percentage nearly doubled from last year, hitting 12.5 percent.

“I think that convenience and ease of use have absolutely become as important as discounting,” says Jess Stephens, chief marketing officer of SmartFocus, a marketing software company. “This absolute need for convenience and immediacy does change how people buy and a lot of that is based on mobile."

And while retailers focus on mobile sales, consumers are using their smartphones in all sorts of ways, meaning that e-commerce operations must think more broadly about how they appeal to mobile shoppers.

“The mobile shopper is not just on mobile. They are also in your store and they’re also on your website. It's really important that brands understand that,” says Alli Brian at Kahuna, a marketing software company that helps brands understand and communicate with customers. “The world is going mobile first, so people do need to get it right.”

Reams of research show that short of making a purchase, consumers are connecting with retailers through mobile in all sorts of ways. 

First, remember that tablets, and smartphones in particular, are key tools during brick-and-mortar shopping trips. A study by Ipsos Media CT, Sterling Brands and Google found that 75 percent of smartphone users were more likely to visit a store when their searches yielded helpful local information, such as store location, hours and the like. Nearly 80 percent of shoppers used their smartphones in the store to search for information, although 66 percent couldn't find what they were looking for.

Providing that information might be a start to building a relationship with customers that isn’t purely “transactional,” as Mansbach puts it.

“I think that in 2015, 2016, 2017, the theme becomes the year of the consumer, where we realize that pushing stuff to consumers ceases to be as effective as truly relating to consumers on an ongoing basis,” Mansbach says. “If you treat me as a transaction, then that’s how I’ll think of you. I’ll think of you once a year -- on Black Friday.”

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