Mobile-centric ecosystems will be key to cultivating customer relationships as e-commerce reaches tipping point, says Luke Griffiths
Mobile World Congress, one of the biggest and most significant mobile technology events of the year, took place earlier this month in Barcelona, playing host to a number of headline-grabbing smartphone and tablet launches by the likes of Samsung, HTC, and Blackberry.
Phablets, with their super-sized and increasingly pixel-dense screens, appear to be here to stay. Consumers are evidently becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of squeezing a five- or six-inch-plus slab of electronics into their bags or pockets. Meanwhile, the ability of forward-thinking brands and retailers to adapt their websites, advertising, and email marketing to the different ways in which consumers typically interact with this more expansive screen real estate has played an important part in driving growth in m-commerce.
In fact, IMRG data published last week put the proportion of online retail sales completed on mobile devices in the quarter from November 2014 to January 2015 at 40 per cent, up from 37 per cent in the previous quarter; it was the steepest quarter-on-quarter rise since late 2013. Additionally, the balance of m-commerce transactions across device categories shifted year-on-year, with 25 per cent being completed on smartphones and 75 per cent on tablets, compared with 20 per cent and 80 per cent twelve months ago.
Undoubtedly, the trend for larger screen sizes played a significant part in these changes, with the additional screen real estate making shopping on a smartphone easier. Looking at the IMRG data, and at trends in mobile device development, it would be no surprise if smartphones and tablets were accounting for more than half of online sales before the year is out.
Brands and retailers need to prepare themselves for this “mobile moment”, the point at which mobile becomes the dominant platform for e-commerce. This means doing more than simply adapting content for different screen sizes. It means thinking creatively about the customer experience and investing in the creation of a mobile-centric ecosystem in which the consumer-brand relationship can live and develop.
Starbucks is a great example to follow, blazing a trail with its innovative integration of mobile payments and a loyalty and rewards scheme in a single app. Customers pay for their coffee by presenting a barcode on their mobile device for the cashier to scan, and this is linked to a dynamic digital “stamp card” – each purchase takes the customer through various levels of eligibility for incrementally better rewards. The app also includes a built-in inbox, used to deliver direct marketing content, but also to share offers from partners brands – such as free music, app, or e-book downloads – to keep customers checking the inbox.
Brands and retailers also need to manage the overlap of online retail and social media. The majority of social media activity takes place inside mobile apps or on the mobile web, and social media apps are consistently among the most-downloaded and most-used in app stores. Whether it is advertising, sponsored content, experimenting with the potential of Twitter’s “Buy” button, or baking the social sharing of wishlists, baskets, or looks into your online shopping experience, social media and mobile commerce strategies will need to be developed in tandem.
That is not to say, however, that retailers should ignore their bricks-and-mortar stores. Even as mobile devices increasingly becomes the final destination in the purchasing journey, retailers should not underestimate the value of their ability to direct customers towards physical stores. Technology such as beacons, already being rolled out by a number of retailers, can be used to send consumers location-specific notifications and offers to “nudge” them when in the vicinity of a store, for instance.
Finally, with mobile becoming such an integral part of the retail experience, brands and retailers need to ensure they are suitably equipped to understand exactly what part it is playing for each customer. Tracking cross-device engagement and purchasing paths by using attribution software is vital to ensuring that marketing strategies, for instance, are appropriately tailored to the behaviour of specific individuals, and that customers do not “slip through the cracks” and drop out of the purchase journey as they hop from one device to another.
The innovation on show at Mobile World Congress this week has proved – as if there were any doubt – that there is plenty of life left in the smartphone yet. If retailers are to take full advantage of the seemingly unstoppable popularity of mobile devices, they will need to show a similar level of innovation to tackle the implications of e-commerce’s impending “mobile moment”.
Luke Griffiths, Head of Marketing Solutions EMEA at eBay Enterprise