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Can mobile live up to its retail promise?


The mobile sales channel has seen a lot of hype in the run up to Christmas both last year and this year. There’s no doubt that many companies have invested considerable sums in their m-commerce channels: according to US consultancy, the E-tailing Group, 30 percent of retailers spent more than $100,000 on m-commerce platforms last year.

Surprisingly though, while mobile commerce technology continues to evolve, research from SDL shows that the majority of consumers in the UK (64 percent) are not using tablets or smartphones to purchase gifts any more this year than they did in 2012. This might lead some of you to wonder: “have retailers adapted to the evolving needs of the consumer and how they are now using mobile to shop”?

Firstly, looking only at mobile sales conversion rates is a short sighted way of measuring the value of mobile because an effective mobile site offers a tremendous opportunity for driving transactions via other channels too. The SDL research clearly shows that mobiles and tablets are heavily used by customers. In fact, 45 percent of all respondents to the survey will use mobile devices to conduct research into purchases when Christmas shopping. Offering the ability for consumers to easily research products via a mobile device and providing promotions will ultimately help drive sales, whether from mobile, online or in physical stores.

There are, of course, things that retailers could be doing to ensure higher return on their investment and to encourage customers to research and to purchase more via their mobiles. For example, there are a lot of retailers who are still trying to ‘do mobile’ by simply optimising their desktop website to be readable on mobile devices. This is a major mistake.

Instead, retailers need to be creating mobile sites that match what their customers do and expect on a mobile device.

One type of content which lends itself to mobile is the online review, both for succinct user comments and rating systems. Over 14 percent of the SDL survey respondents said they were influenced by online reviews. While content on mobiles needs to be specifically suitable for the mobile customer experience, it also needs to retain consistency with other online and in-store channels. This consistency is proven to help build customer trust.

A lack of trust is currently a key barrier to mobile sale conversions. Many customers still feel uncomfortable giving their payment details over a wireless network. A study by Jumio conducted in August this year, shows that 51 percent of consumers abandoned their mobile shopping because they didn’t feel confident in the payment method. Retailers should consider creating a simple yet secure way that their customers can register credit or debit cards with them and then pay when out and about with a simple touch of a button.

Speed is another key factor in getting more customers and potential customers to use mobile. As a general rule of thumb, if a site does not load and respond to page clicks within less than three seconds, 50 percent of visitors (read: shoppers) will leave instantly and of those, 80 percent will never return and half of them will tell peers to avoid the service. Considering that it takes around one second for a device to connect to the mobile network, this means mobile sites need to have a page loading time of less than 2 seconds.

While online sales are increasing, there are signs that many consumers still prefer brick and mortar stores. In fact, the SDL survey shows that consumer preference for physical shops increased slightly, from 51 percent to 53 percent, in the past year. Many shoppers go to physical stores to see what sort of deal they might be able to get and to ‘showroom’ (look at a product that they will buy online later). Stores that see customers walking round with a phone or tablet in hand, could direct sales assistants to show them best of their company’s online deals; for example do they offer free shipping or 5 percent off the first purchase? Giving this level of service, and offering to show the customer how to make the purchase from their phone or tablet, might prevent a potential sale leaving the store and buying online from a rival. In-store advertising can also point customers to their mobile devices, with messages like: “check out our online deals now.”

Ultimately, whatever the channel, the focus for retailers this Christmas needs to be on delivering a great experience to customers. The SDL research found that a majority of UK consumers are willing to pay more if a retailer delivers a great customer experience. Therefore, retailers that can deliver a contextually-relevant experience – one that is consistent across channels, and that is fast and simple to use – are likely to see their sales across mobile, online and in-store increase not just this Christmas but for the foreseeable future.

Published on Monday 16 December by Editorial Assistant

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