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GUEST OPINION Mind the gap: why neglecting a commuter audience could be a missed opportunity for retailers

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Ian Reynolds, managing director of KBH On-Train Media takes a look at how the morning commute is turning into an m-commerce boom – but is often overlooked by retailers

More than a fifth of UK online sales are taking place on a commuter journey, with spend totalling £9.3bn annually, according to Zapp. The morning rush – 7am to 9am – sees the biggest spike with 1.5 million commuters estimated to be shopping. Combine this with the 1.7 billion rail passenger journeys made in the past 12 months, and it is clear there is a huge appetite for consumers to shop as they travel.

Advances in technology, including increasingly efficient and widespread on-train Wi-Fi, are enabling this. A largely untapped new shopper archetype for online retailers to capitalise on is fast emerging.

The train carriage is a rare uninterrupted ‘pause point’ environment.

Online retailers could have the full attention of a consumer for 40 minutes per average journey through the use of on-train out-of-home (OOH) formats. When this is combined with the 36% of train users who have used their mobile for shopping whilst on the train it makes for a unique opportunity to engage with a captive audience and drive consumers through to online retail sites.

We recently explored this further and our research found that nearly a third (30%) of train users have browsed general retailer websites whilst on the train, with 20% making a purchase from those sites during their journey.

Despite the increasing use and adoption of technology, traditional OOH formats still play a key role in influencing consumer behaviour. Our research has shown that despite the distractions a mobile device brings to a train journey, where 90% of train users use a smartphone during travel and half of the average journey is spent on a smartphone, almost all – 94% – of passengers do take notice of traditional OOH on-train ads.

In addition, of those who have bought something they saw advertised on the train, 28% made the purchase immediately, while still on the train, all suggesting a clear relationship between on-train advertising and mobile technology in driving online retail sales.

Interestingly the on-train audience wants to use their time efficiently. When commuters were asked about their online shopping habits, more than half (59%) agreed that convenience often plays a part in their purchase – 14% more than average.

Further to this, 48% said they find advertising on a train and in train stations useful, as it prompts them to use their spare time effectively. This new shopper archetype is in ‘utility mode’ – people who shop via smartphone because they are very time-poor.

On-train media can play a role because ubiquitous technology and connectivity is exploited to make the most efficient use of ‘dead’ time. This ad format can act as a prompt to encourage train users to ‘lean in’ to advertising messages when it suits them and actively seek out retail experiences from the comfort of their seat.

This provides a number of benefits for both brand and consumer. The consumer may ultimately be more valuable and ready to purchase than otherwise and the brand benefits by being perceived as less overt and intrusive, instead inviting the consumer to travel at their own speed along the purchase pathway.

The behaviours and demands of audiences may have changed over the past decade or so, but on-train ads continue to prove valuable within their specialist space. A combination of factors contributes to this, including traditional OOH being a highly visible ad format, reaching an affluent and hyper-connected commuting consumer. The consumer is also happy to buy online via a connected device nowadays. Train users have been proven to make impulse purchases; and, finally, these train users have an extensive on-train dwell-time in which to make the purchase decision.

On-train ads reach 7.1 million affluent, connected and influential rail users every four weeks. They are the only commercial message accompanying consumers throughout their train journey and are unencumbered by reception or network issues.

Effectively reaching the commuting consumer, and powering purchase through classic advertising opportunities, presents a very real opportunity for online retailers. By reaching this new shopper group, online retailers can own the journey and drive sales in a unique, powerful way.

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