Foldable phones are all over the news right now with new models releasing left, right and centre: Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip, the Huawei Mate XS and, for those feeling some clamshell nostalgia, the Motorola Razr 2019.
Reviews of these devices have been fairly mixed to date, often due to the robustness (or lack thereof) of the screen and the hinges as well as the fold itself, which can make some screens prone to creasing. But it does seem that, after the hiccups of 2019, foldable phones may finally be hitting the mainstream.
These devices are enabling users to do more with their phones – and in a different way. The horizontal flip of the Razr allows for cinematic widescreen viewing, and, alongside the Samsung, makes it easy to record vlogs or take video calls with the phone sitting up on the table in front of you.
From a retail, m- and s-commerce perspective, however, they open up a whole new way to do more with content. In short, they present a huge opportunity to maximise basket spend through cross-selling and upselling approaches that take advantage of the versatility and increased size of the screen. And this in itself will make for a quicker, easier and more frictionless approach to m- and s-commerce.
At the very least, a split-screen mode offers a different type of viewing experience that allows shoppers to comparison shop without recourse to multiple tabs and open pages.
That ability for customers to view and shop two product pages side by side, or scroll a static product page on one side while keeping richer, video-based content on the other, will make it easier than ever for shoppers to jump between and compare retailers, or to keep multiple apps open simultaneously.
This is especially useful for brands that span multiple categories, as shoppers will be able to browse different products in different departments without ‘going back a step’. Retailers can also benefit by maximising attach sales opportunities – in consumer electronics this could be a product detail page for a new camera open on one side and related products such as memory cards and cases on the other.
A split-screen format may also allow for ratings and reviews to be displayed right alongside a product, thereby reducing the friction that comes from having to scroll down a page to read a review.
Retailers are already aware how social media is driving uninterrupted commerce from the likes of Instagram’s checkout functionality and TikTok’s in-app e-commerce experiment. Social content is a catalyst for shopping and the journey from discovery to purchase is being shortened all the time.
Foldable phones could exploit that functionality further still by allowing shoppers to stay on their news feed on one side of the phone’s screen and shop the content served up in that feed on the other.
Customer service is another opportunity, as brands are increasingly keen to engage in direct conversations with shoppers and video calling is a prime way to generate additional engagement and enhance the human-based service experience.
Shoppers are already embracing this expressive technology. Video calls are on the rise year-on-year in the EU, while in the US two-thirds of those calls occur on mobiles and a quarter of millennials make video calls every day.
Foldable phones add another string to that bow for retailers, as they could enable video calls where customers can have the brand representative on one side and their order details on the other, ensuring important details don’t get lost or missed.
It’s easier to ask and answer questions in real time, to be more responsive and to support more immersive enquiries. And a phone that can be propped up by itself also makes it easier and more convenient.
Retailers and brands will also be able to develop richer, format-specific content for foldable phones, enabling them to expand their video inventory and take advantage of a larger screen size. More space and higher-resolution screens allow for the creation of long-form advertising content and the extraction of richer customer data from users who are likely to dwell longer on those pages.
The Galaxy Z-Flip’s split-screen enables multitasking with multi-active window support, so dragging and dropping multiple apps to display at the top half and bottom half of the display is easy. With the ability for foldables to have multiple apps open at the same time, users can multitask without having to toggle back and forth, reducing friction and providing a more seamless user experience.
From a shopper perspective, the ability to book a hotel or holiday in one app and have Trip Advisor and the Enterprise car hire app running concurrently will facilitate a more informed and end-to-end purchase across a shorter timeframe.
Currently, most apps aren’t yet optimised to take advantage of a foldable’s unconventional design. Expect much more when they do.
But for foldables to truly take off and become an integral part of the m- and s-commerce ecosystem, a few things have to happen. Assuming the screens and hinges can be mastered, firstly the entry price points will have to come down to make them affordable to a wider range of potential customers.
With the cheapest phones still in excess of £1,000, they currently remain a product primarily of interest to wealthier users and early adopters. But prices are likely to drop as more devices become available and new generations hit the market.
Perhaps more importantly, foldable phones will also need 5G networks to become more widespread and rollout of that technology to date remains slow. Only with 5G functionality will foldable phones be able to, for example, fully exploit immersive gaming content that is often reliant on buffer-free streaming.
But the advent of 5G is just the start, as foldables could offer virtual and augmented reality overlays to make their products leap off the screen – for example, one side showing a 3D living room while the other shows different AR furniture overlays that users can select to superimpose over it.
The key will be to deliver content in a more compelling way to take advantage of what foldable phones have to offer – multiple apps open at once, comparing and contrasting different products, even new channels for video-based customer service. Brands and retailers alike have the opportunity to open up intriguing new services for these intriguing new devices.
Tim Carter, director of operations at shopper marketing specialist smp