Search Contributes To Mobile Influence Of $1 Trillion In Retail Sales

I guess it depends on how you define search, but it turns out that those smart little devices in your pocket or purse are contributing to billions of dollars in retail sales. Not just online, but in stores. And search has a major role in this as well.

It's not enough to simply run paid-search or product listing ads to reach consumers -- which demonstrates how truly connected services on the engines have become. Optimizing the data linking images with prices, store hours and locations now plays a major role in search strategies, as online searches are increasingly tied to sales in retail stores. Mobile devices are contributing to that rise, according to a study released in February.

Forrester estimates that smartphone sales reached $60 billion in 2016, but influenced $1.05 trillion in offline sales. By 2021, consumers will spend $152 billion directly on mobile phones, or nearly 24% of total online sales. The research firm estimates that smartphone retail sales will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.4% during the next five years, and mobile phones will influence $1.4 trillion in offline sales.

The Forrester report — titled The Biggest Prize In Mobile Commerce Is Influencing Offline Sales — summarizes opportunities through 2021, outlining the ways in which retailers can connect more closely with consumers through mobile. The report — which uses data from the Forrester Data: Mobile and Tablet Commerce Forecast, 2016 to 2021 (U.S.) — suggests that improving the experience will help, but consumers still flock to more rudimentary, rather than sophisticated, ways to connect.

Checking prices, reading reviews, searching inventory and finding store locations on a smartphone are some of the actions that contribute to purchases. Some of the major features that consumers want are the ability to refine search results by price, brand, style, or another product attribute; and to find product information from the retailer and product information from the manufacturer.

About 52% of survey participants said they compared prices on their mobile phone within the past three months while not in the physical store. Some 47% looked up product information, 44% read customer product reviews, 39% searched for a coupon, 32% searched for a nearby store or checked store hours, and 30% checked availability of a product in an online store whereas 29% checked for product in a physical store.

But the search for information on a mobile device doesn't stop there. Consumers search for information about in-store promotions and search for the product to snap a photo to share it with friend.

While experiences are finally being built for smaller screens, it's just not clear whether consumers are really to fully embrace them. The best mobile apps and Web sites -- especially from brick-and-mortar retailers -- now support mobile payments, loyalty cards, and local inventory search. Those on top of their game use emerging technologies like instant apps and progressive Web apps to offer easy login and authentication with Touch ID.

It seems like a bit of a dichotomy. It appears that consumers are gravitating toward "tedious mobile Web sites." Perhaps the real draw for mobile has become the springboard from the Internet to the retail store. Consumers want experience, but few are willing to engage with the mobile apps that offer the best of these. Companies still struggle with finding ways for consumers to download and frequently use their apps. Some 83% of consumers download apps for the services they use most often, while 47% prefer apps over mobile Web sites, and 43% think that app experiences are generally better than mobile Web sites, according to data released Thursday.

Despite all this, consumers still have concerns about privacy and security. They don't want to use up their cellular data and minutes for shopping. Only 9% of U.S. online adults would like retailers to use their mobile location to personalize shopping experiences. Less than one-quarter will share basic contact information. Consumers will turn on location services and other contexts if a retailer can deliver equal or greater value, according to Forrester.

This column was previously published in the Search Blog on February 16, 2017.

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