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EDITORIAL What can UK retail learn from the rest of the world’s mobile-first approach?

Looking overseas can teach UK retail some lessons for 2020

There is no getting away from it, 2019 was a bad year for UK retail – with even Christmas failing to deliver any end-of-year cheer. However, the picture overseas is very different – globally, ecommerce has had a bit of a boom year, driven by mobile.

While UK ecommerce growth was the lowest ever, worldwide, average ecommerce added 8% to its value, according to Salesforce’s 2019 Holiday Shopping Report. Adobe’s own analysis of shopping figures published in its 2019 Holiday Recap report, found ecommerce growth of 13% in the US.

To put that into some sort of perspective, that makes global ecommerce worth $723 billion.

And one of the key drivers of this growth in 2019 has been mobile. Salesforce tips its hat to mobile, suggesting that it is now the number one platform for global ecomm. Adobe goes further and suggests that 58% of ecommerce sales in the US were on Smartphones, accounting for 84% of growth.

App Annie goes further still with its extensive analysis of mobile in 2019, which shows that £33billion was spent on mobile across November and December in the US, with consumers averaging 3 hours and 40 minutes on mobile in 2019, up 35% since 2017 – and they downloaded 204 billion apps.

Aside from staggering numbers, App Annie uncovers perhaps the greatest truth of all about mobile retail and that is that those businesses that are ‘mobile-first’ are the most successful – and are likely to dominate in 2020.

For example, ‘mobile-first’ companies, including Uber and Alibaba, had a combined IPO valuation of $544 billion, six and a half times higher than companies without a mobile focus. $38.4 billion was spent on Alibaba’s Singles’ Day on mobile in 2019 alone.

These business tap into one important fact: Generation Z now – as of the end of 2019 – are the predominant demographic out there, accounting for 32% of the global population. Making your offering suitable for them is now essential to retail success.

Of course, there is more going on in the UK market than simply not catering to Gen Z – there is Brexit for one: it has hammered confidence and continues to do so. But, my gut feeling is that part of this lack of confidence on the retailer side lies in not wanting to invest in the kind of tech that will suit Gen Z shoppers.

With such uncertainty and with profits taking such a hit, investing in ‘unproven’ tech for a nascent audience is a bit of a big ask. However, the numbers coming from the rest of the world surely starts to show just how vital mobile-first now is. While UK retail reshapes itself, marching to a tuneless Brexit bong, it will pay to look at how ‘normal’ markets have behaved over peak and learn their lessons.

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