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IRC 2013 PREVIEW Interview with Jonathan Wall of Shop Direct Group on the power of mobile

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Ahead of the annual Internet Retailing Conference (IRC 2013) we’re running a series of previews of the event, focusing on the highlights of the one-day conference and featuring interviews with speakers. Today we speak to Jonathan Wall of the Shop Direct Group, which owns brands including very, isme and Littlewoods.

Internet Retailing: Can you tell us briefly about the Shop Direct experience of mobile commerce?

Jonathan Wall, group ecommerce director, Shop Direct Group: Mobile’s been around for us since about 2010 and it’s been absolutely the heart of our strategy for the last couple of years.

We saw our first mobile customers in 2010, when we started to see about 1% to 2% to 3% of our session starts come via a smartphone to our site. By the end of 2010 we were up to 5% and it was growing rapidly. We took a big decision in the middle of 2010 to get our mobile web offering right. We stopped development of apps and absolutely focused on getting the mobile web right. Today more than 40% of sessions and more than 30% of sales are on mobile.

We think we’ve done a reasonable job of our mobile strategy and getting it right but we’re now reassessing where we are today and looking at if we need to develop brand apps for Very or Littlewoods.

What we’ve seen over the last 12 months is that it all started again with tablets. The kind of astronomical growth we saw in 2011 towards the end of last year and the first seven months of this year we’ve seen massive growth in tablets. Initially those customers were just getting the desktop site now we’re starting to optimise it for tablet as well. I think smartphone now it’s about getting our tablet offering right and up to speed for our customers and that’s what we’re working on at the moment.

A third of our mobile visitors are on tablets, but we are now seeing triple-digit growth on tablets, whereas smartphones are now into double-digit growth. We’re still seeing really strong growth on smartphones but tablets are stronger. I would expect at some point, if not by the end of this year but the early part of this year, tablets to equal mobile in terms of sessions.

IR: Does it surprise you that so many mobile visitors are on smartphones?

JW: It doesn’t surprise me because people have got smartphones all the time. But smartphone sessions are shorter, whereas people are spending longer on our sites on a tablet. Tablets are also becoming more mobile with the proliferation of wifi. At first they were a replacement for laptops, now they are an alternative to mobile.

IR: Can you tell us about something you/Shop Direct found difficult in the move to mobile and how you solved that, as well as one area where you found an unexpected benefit/opportunity?

JW: The biggest difficulty that we had to work internally on, was that we were seeing huge migration of customers away from our desktop site to mobile.

One of our brands has a conversion rate of 6% and we were seeing traffic move to a device that was converting at less than 3%, so we had a lot of concern as to whether it would have a negative effect on customer demand because people were less likely to convert. We had to show rapidly this wasn’t about people converting from one device to another, but that people were using mobile in their desktop journey. When we were looking at multidevice customers, using smartphone, tablet and then desktop, there was a ten to fifteenfold increase in those customers’ devices.

Once we could connect customers across devices using cookie and account ID we could then go back to the brand directors, the custodians of our brand, and say this isn’t something you need to worry about – this is propping up your desktop conversions. Then they were really comfortable with that. Once we could show it, there was a lot of comfort about mobile – we could say look guys, if we can get these people on mobile they are more likely to convert on desktop as well.

It’s allowed us to be able to connect customers across many devices, and allowed us to invest in the right channels for marketing as well. Whereas it used to be conversion by device, it’s now conversion by journey. And the journey might start on mobile or finish on desktop or tablet, but you need to connect them and see it as a journey not a device. More and more people I speak to in the industry are seeing that now and working towards that as well.

The benefit for us is that we’ve been able to invest in channels. If you look at Google Mobile, because it’s an auction-based system, the fewer people there are in the auction the lower the CPC (cost per click). We’ve been able to secure a stronger ROI on the back of being able to connect customers across devices. That’s been unexpected. If we’d thought about it right at the start we’ve probably have expected it but actually we kind of tripped over it.

IR: How do you think your customers will shop in five years time, and what will the big differences be from today?

JW: I haven’t got a crystal ball but I think the absolute plain one for me is that customers will be snacking across more devices, customers will be device-agnostic. I’m a relatively early adopter of technology – I don’t even think about what device I’m on now. If I’m making an online purchase my journey might start in the queue for a coffee and it might finish on the desktop at home in the evening, and it might have incorporated tablet, or YouTube.

What we have to make sure is that as an online retailer we can connect all those journeys. If I put a product in my wishlist in the coffee queue at 9am, if I go to my desktop or my tablet in the evening, that product should be in the wishlist through that device. I think that’s a key thing that we can connect across the devices. The one thing that even without a crystal ball you can be sure of is that customers will today have more devices, be it a watch or a smart TV, and you can be sure they are connected.

IR: How do you think the retail industry will be different in that time period, and what will its main focuses be?

JW: Mobile is the silver bullet. If I was a retailer now I would absolutely be seeing how customers could connect to my wi-fi in my stores, so the first thing people can do is download my app; through that I’d be able to see where customers are shopping so I can see heat maps through the store. Genuinely for retailers, mobile is a silver bullet, through wi-fi.

IR: And what will it do for you?

JW: It will allow us see where our customers have been. If they’ve been into an IKEA store we can ringfence all the IKEA stores in the UK and we can map customers who’ve been shopping for furniture on one of our sites, look at customers who’ve got our app, and to get that contextual data is an incredibly important piece of information for us. We’ll also tell us our customers and make sure they understand that one of the benefits of downloading our app, available early next year, is that they’ll get relevant offers based on where they’re shopping or what they’re shopping for.

Just being with our customers 24/7 is really really important. A few years ago we saw them at lunchtimes, on their lunchbreak, and in the evenings. Now we see them 24/7 – we see traffic on our mobile site starting at 5.30am and they’re still there at 11pm. It’s a silver bullet because we’re speaking to them all the time whereas before it was those on/off moments.

IRX 2013 will be held at the Novotel, Hammersmith in London, on October 16. Jonathan Wall is a member of the panel that will debate A reality check for mobile at 2.35pm in The Industry conference stream. For more details and tickets visit

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