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EDITORIAL How mobile is reshaping booming online retail

Image: Adobe Stock

Mobile use through the pandemic has, like all things digital, accelerated, reaching a point in early 2021 that would probably have been more likely to have been hit by 2025 – and it is having a profound impact on shopping habits and how retailers respond.

According to data from App Annie, mobile retail app use has grown 45% in a year across the world, with some markets such as Indonesia, Mexico and Russia seeing 85%, 65% and 50% growth respectively.

For consumers the allure of mobile is clear: they typically have one to hand 24×7 so it’s the logical place to go to shop. However, it feeds into a deeper seated demand. Research by Adobe also out this week finds that more than half (55%) of consumers now shop online more frequently than they did during the pandemic – but they are much more fickle and will abandon a shopping journey from one retailer and try another if the process isn’t slick and easy.

Easy to find pricing (66%), clearly displayed discounts (63%) and accurate product descriptions (62%) are all highly valued. Consumers also want high quality product images (57%), the ability to find further information on products and services quickly and easily (52%) and clearly laid out pages (51%).

Mobile is often where attention to these details has been focussed. Many mobile apps are, because of the constraints of the small screen, clear, image-led and easy to use. Payments too, a sore point for many an online shopper quizzed by Adobe, are also more refined and often easier on mobile. Think Apple Pay and its face recognition, or Google Pay and its biometrics on Android phones.

Mobile also has the added advantages that it can be used to enhance the online retail experience in ways that desktop simply can’t. Mobile lends itself to location based services, as well as acting not only as the hackneyed ‘remote control for life’ but these days the ‘remote control for organising shopping and delivieries’.

This is where retailers are starting to really see some advantages to mobile. According to research by Contentsquare, aquarter (25%) of UK consumers are open to trying on clothes using augmented or virtual reality to avoid physical fitting rooms during Covid-19.

Prior to the pandemic, only 19% of consumers said they would be open to using AR or VR technology to try on clothes — a figure which had risen to 25% by the end of 2020. This change, says the study, is a direct result of the recent crisis, with 39% of UK shoppers now avoiding physical stores to protect against Covid-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, retailers including Adidas, ASOS and Gap have all begun experimenting with their own augmented reality fitting rooms and experiences.

Amazon is also expanding its own AR fashion offering, with a recent patent suggesting plans to “data mine” pictures saved on consumers’ phones to produce more accurate AR fitting room experiences.

The use of ‘virtual’ to enhance the online shopping paradigm is clearly gaining ground in apparel and fashion retail, but it is also becoming a key differentiator in the increasingly competitive homewares market.

The latest company to get onboard with it is Cox & Cox, which is rolling out ‘Room Builder’ software that will allow customers to design rooms virtually – from furniture to paint colour – save it, share it and message it in as it adapts to the online homewares boom.

Powered by Hullabalook stickers technology, the Room Builder software allows customers to start with a blankcanvas, select the shade of flooring closest to theirs, as well as a wall colour, and create. The tool also allows furniture to be added, moved or removed easily from the drop-down menu options to one side.

At a time when the UK leads the world in the average amount spent online by shoppers, it is increasingly apparent that a key driver of this is mobile – and that is a trend that is only going to get more heavily entrenched in consumer minds as more retailers and brands make mobile the most engaging and frictionless way to shop.

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