Emerging Platforms Wireless

Retailers and Mobile: Stop looking in the rearview mirror and focus on the road ahead

Posted by Todd Sherman on March 13th, 2013 at 8:42 am

As with all new game-changing technologies, it takes a little longer than expected for their full implications to be broadly understood. The first uses generally treat new technologies as a channel and predictably use them to solve the same old problems in almost exactly the same old way – maybe a little faster and a little more conveniently, but it’s still the same basic process. This is exactly how most retailers are currently using mobile technologies.

Pop quiz: Which company first treated online retail as a revolution and not an evolution of traditional retail? (The answer is at the end of the article).

Retailers generally understand that customers are increasingly using their mobile devices to help them shop. But more often than not, the strategy retailers use is to take their existing ecommerce website and “optimize” it for delivery on the smaller mobile screen. Not surprisingly, the usual result is the same old, traditional ecommerce.

Much of this situation is driven by the omnichannel and “responsive design” approaches where “all channels need to look and feel the same.” Part of it is because the ecommerce team is given the responsibility to extend the mobile presence (“digital is digital”) and views the mobile phone user as just another home-or-office online shopper. Another reason is that repurposed ecommerce sites are usually the fastest thing that can be done and be loosely called “mobile.”

Lastly, part of the issue is that retailers approach “mobile” as a problem to be fixed and do not appreciate the significant new opportunity it offers.

The key to understanding the potential of mobile in retail and how to leverage it comes in two steps.

First, it’s important to understand what’s different about mobile. Instead of looking at the similarities of mobile with traditional PCs and PC-based browsing, focus on what is unique both in terms of the technology and, more importantly, what is different about how people are using it.

Second, determine how to best take advantage of it in the context of retailers’ goals. Can mobile be used to increase sales, deliver better customer service, and increase customer loyalty? Can it help the retailer understand the customer better?

On the first point, mobile devices are just that: mobile. Customers are increasingly taking their phones into stores to assist them with their shopping decisions – currently more than 66% of them. That’s very different than PCs. With more than 90% of retail occurring in-store, that’s significant (and begs the question of why the ecommerce tail is wagging the in-store dog).

When a shopper is inside a store, the primary influence comes from the physical brick and mortar experience. Customers intuitively expect mobile to augment and enhance that environment and not drag them into the disassociated online world (where, incidentally, they are one click away from every other retailers’ online offerings).

Secondly, how can physical store assets be turned into a competitive advantage? How can retailers help customers? How can they deliver more of the retail brand promise?

Shoppers expect their mobile devices to connect them with the physical store. Mobile can help customers find products in-store using indoor maps and graphically show them exact product locations. It can take the shopping list and turn it into an efficient path through the store. And now that retailers know a customer’s shopping list, they can offer highly personalized offers and product suggestions.

A recent study shows that by integrating these indoor locations technologies into retail apps shoppers become five times more engaged - more engaged with products, stores and brands. And that drives increased sales and greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

It also provides the retailer deep insights into what their customers want, what they respond to and how the retailer can improve merchandising and marketing.

That’s the true retailer – and shopper – opportunity with mobile.

And it’s just the beginning. As with many new technologies, we’re just scratching the surface. It’s impossible to look more than a few years out and predict how retailers and shoppers will connect using mobile. But one thing is for sure: it will look less like ecommerce and be more connected to the store.

Mobile also turns your physical store into an incredible asset that online retailers cannot compete with.

So, don’t treat the mobile opportunity in retail as a problem to be fixed. It’s an incredible opportunity that will provide traditional retailers a whole new set of positive interactions with their customers. Take advantage of it.

Pop quiz answer: Amazon

One Response to “Retailers and Mobile: Stop looking in the rearview mirror and focus on the road ahead”

  1. This is one of the best overviews of the challenges of mobile among retailers. Yes, they are looking to the present or past when they should be looking to future. However, none of the decision makers are being evaluated based on being forward-thinking. Instead, most managers are rewarded for being conservative and risk-averse. Remember the adage, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." Well it holds true in the context of mobile innovation. Furthermore, mobile is so new and overwhelming, most think they can just "check the box" if they have any kind of mobile strategy in place. "We've got an app." Check. Or, "We've got a mobile site." Check. They think they're done. What about social (social really is mobile as over 60% of social media is accessed via mobile devices)? What about email (more people access email via mobile than computer)? What about SMS/MMS, mobile search/PPC (Google just changed the rules so mobile PPC ads are shown by default - no longer in advertisers' control)? Let's not forget mobile display. So, retailers need to 1) look ahead and 2) double down on mobile - not just piecemeal.

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