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Body Shop, Debenhams turn to mobile; the driver of online sales growth

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This week Debenhams and the Body Shop have both outlined mobile strategies designed to turn around their businesses. For the likes of online printing business SpreadShirt, mobile has become the key to its development. And who can blame them? Mobile is driving growth in retail and is, for many, the last life line to high street sales.

Figures from IMRG CapGemini show that online sales grew again in March, driven in large part by higher average basket values (ABV) through mobile devices for both multichannel and online-only retailers – the total m-retail ABV was up 18% on March 2016, to mark the seventh straight month in which the ABV has risen year on year.

And all this is because retailers are starting to roll out mobile sites that perform well and which deliver that all-important ‘experience’ that consumers now crave. Not everyone is there yet, but increasingly retailers are mastering mobile and the fact that it is largely driving the growth seen in retail generally is an indication that they are getting it right.

There is another factor at play too: Generation Y has grown up. New research from leading retail and shopper marketing agency, Savvy, suggests that the rise of the ‘connected shopper’ has now reached a tipping point. The mass adoption of smartphones and social media, broader technological advancements and, crucially the rise of Generation Y as a group of shoppers have fundamentally reshaped the path-to-purchase.

This group of shoppers is constantly connected. Their smartphones sit at the centre of their lives, with 80% of Generation Y saying they look at their phones multiple times an hour. They are also highly active on social media – 97% having access social media in the past month. 95% have used messaging services like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. In perspective only 55% of this group had read a printed newspaper (including free papers) during the past month.

66% of Generation Y shoppers say they regularly use their smartphone to buy products and nearly half (49%) regularly use their smartphones while in the supermarket.

With this in mind, Body Shop and Debenhams are backing mobile to change their businesses. The Body Shop [IRDX RTBS] has launched a mobile-first ecommerce platform as part of a three-year £10m transformation project that aims to see 20% of sales come from ecommerce. The site comes in response to the fact that 52% of the retailer’s online traffic is now via smartphones, and 11% via tablet computers. Global ecommerce sales grew by 19% in 2016 – twice as fast as the previous year.

For Debenhams , meanwhile, the stakes are higher. It reported group sales (group transaction value) of £1.7bn in the half year to March 4, 2.9% up on the same time last year, with UK sales like-for-like sales up by 0.5%. Pre-tax profits of £87.8m were 6.4% down on last time.

But it has to transform its business. Its growth comes from mobile: online sales grew ahead of overall sales: its 14.6% half-year ecommerce increase included 12% growth in the UK, thanks to a 64% growth in mobile orders.

The retailer now aims to put mobile at the centre of its business, so that customers can always engage with it via their smartphones, wherever they are, and whether they are shopping or communicating.

The story is similar over at SpreadShirt. It saw increased its global sales by around 9% to a total of £77.7m (€93 million), driven largely by mobile – almost 50% of platform visitors use mobile devices. Increasingly they are visiting and designing via their phones.

Smartphone traffic is up 22%, whilst visits from tablets is down by 14%. Globally Spreadshirt experienced over 40% growth in orders via smartphone in 2016. In the UK and Europe this was up 73% year-on-year.

So is this the final dawn of the mobile age? Yes and no. The mobile age has been with us for some time and growth has been slowly developing as the technology simultaneously seeps into both the consumer consciousness and that of the retailers. Now it seems to be taking root as the bedrock of online retailing. Happy days for me, the mobile editor, mine’s a pint.

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