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EDITORIAL iPhone 12 comes at a time when mobile is becoming increasingly crucial to social retail

iPhone: one of the few bits of tech to really change the world

Anyone interested, even vaguely, in mobile tech won’t have missed Apple’s launch of the iPhone 12 this week. Bringing 5G, better cameras and huge processor speed gains, the new handset, while not a game changer, does make it best in class.

And what a time to launch such a device: the pandemic has not only forced Apple to host a series of (increasingly mind-bending) virtual launches – think Black Mirror, but without the plot, according to Mashable – but it has put mobile front and centre in most people’s lives. It is now their conduit to human interaction, entertainment and shopping.

In fact, mobile is now so prevalent that the stats surrounding how it is being used are quite astounding. Research out at the end of last week from app use analysts App Annie, found that monthly time spent using mobile apps grew 25% year over year in Q3 2020 globally, topping 180 billion hours each month between July and September 2020.

That’s more than hour more than a whole 24-hour day per month for every single man, woman and child on Planet Earth.

According to App Annie, consumers spent a record $28 billion in apps in Q3 2020. On Google Play, games, social and entertainment were the largest categories by consumer spend. These categories also saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in consumer spend.

Looking at the analyst’s data, social sites top both the worldwide downloads and monthly active user charts and also, thanks to TikTok, feature heavily in the consumer spend line-up too. Download-wise, TikTok and Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat come in at #1, #2, #6 and #10 respectively. Facebook and Instagram are positioned at #1 and #4 in the monthly active users, while TikTok is ranked second for global consumer spend on iOS among non-gamers.

This is quite astounding. While mobile may have become much more prevalent in consumers’ lives, the role of social on mobile in retail has grown even more so.

This is backed up by a study this week by Visa, which finds that 17% of UK consumers now using social apps to shop, with one in ten making a purchase this way since lockdown began in March.

The key is convenience. Consumers are slumped in front of Netflix (#7 in the monthly active user category) idly playing with their phones and they shop with, in Visa’s words “just a swipe and a click”. It is so easy.

But social brings much more to the party. It is not only starting to shape up as a sales channel, but it connects the selling and marketing – and the influencer marketing – in a perfect circle.

In the real world, Asos is an exemplar of this social reach in action. Lodging record sales over lockdown ,up nearly 20%, its invigorated drive on social media engagement is cited by the retailer as one of its key revenue drivers.

Focussing on social – especially good quality video content – has translated into more than 79 million engagements across social platforms. It also broke the 1 billion views mark on TikTok with its AySauceChallenge, hitting 1.6 billion views and becoming the only retailer in Europe to do so.

This shows just how mobile its core demographic is and how they are keen to use all the facilities that mobile brings to engage. The launch of iPhone 12 and the role it will play in extending the reach of 5G to the (well healed) masses is only going to drive this form of engagement – and the subsequent sales that go with it – forwards.

To my mind, one of the biggest shifts that lockdown and the pandemic will bring to retail won’t just be a shift to online, but will also be changes in what ecommerce means. It will increasingly be about marketplaces and social media sites becoming like marketplaces – and, to some extent – vice versa.

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