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Mobile bucks the gloomy trend suggest ONS figures for peak 2017

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Recent ONS retail figures paint a gloomy overall picture for retail sales in the UK for 2018 based on 2017’s showing, but mobile could be set to help buck that trend as shoppers embrace it to find deals and engage more personally with retailers.

According to the ONS, retail sales grew in the three months to December, buoyed by Black Friday, and online sales were particularly strong in December for retailers operating in the textile, clothing and footwear categories (+20.9%) and household goods stores (+17%). Overall, ecommerce sales grew by 9.4% and accounted for 18% of all retail, slightly more than the 17% share that online took in November 2017. But it is mobile that is stealing the show.

While figures from ecommerce and digital agency Visualsoft indicate that retail revenues from mobile in December grew by 79% year on year, Hazjier Pourkhalkhali, Global Head of Strategy, Optimizely, points out that “The percentage of mobile traffic continues to rise with retailers citing an average of 54% per cent of traffic coming from mobile devices”.

According to Pourkhalkhali, retailers know that this where the audience is going but they now have to capitalize on converting these consumers through better digital experiences. The disparity between in-store and online sales highlights the need for businesses to be equipped with the right tools to address changing customer needs. It is no wonder then that consumers will only turn to retailers who have taken the stress and pressure out of the shopping experience. Retailers who were not testing all year round to guarantee the easiest and fastest shopping experience at Christmas were facing a losing battle.

“December represented the perfect opportunity for retailers to use personalisation to create tailored offers and analyse and evaluate consumer behaviour,” says Pourkhalkhali. “The increased traffic to websites means that retailers needed to create the best possible online experience, providing a quick and reliable service. This is a prime example of where experimentation can add real value, helping businesses understand what offers and content can better engage their key audiences. As reflected by this month’s ONS figures, those that didn’t adopt a culture of experimentation, lost out.”

Within the tech sector, many see mobile offering the ideal way out of this predicament on a retail science level, as well as a customer level. Craig Smith, VP of Customer Success at Amplience believes that “The customer experience has changed beyond all recognition, becoming more mobile-centric and social-media focused than ever before. In order to succeed in today’s world, retailers must deliver targeted, enticing content that is optimised for mobile.  Retailers who have failed to realise this don’t have much time left!”

This is echoed by Jeff Huckaby, Global Retail Market Director, Tableau, who believes that peak 2017 showed us that “Taking to their devices, consumers are spending more time searching for the best deal online, leaving a trail of valuable data along the way. These stats show the ability to harness data is the differentiator between successful retailers and those just keeping their heads above water.”

This data is going to be what saves retailers. In 2018, retailers need to look at how this data is collected and processed.

“The result is a need for data-savvy and tech-literate employees,” says Huckaby. “Seven in ten retailers recognise that Chief Data Officers (CDOs) and data engineers are important in today’s landscape but our latest research shows retailers are struggling; 46% of retailers do not currently have a CDO and only half have a data engineer.”

Huckaby continues: “From using machine learning for emotional scoring of product recommendations and sentiment, to predicting customer needs, to strengthening retailer-supplier relationships with visual analytics, technology and data will continue to permeate every aspect of the supply chain from production to consumption. As retailers face increased competition, getting the attention of savvy consumers lies not only in delivering the best online experience, but in the ability to bring e-commerce thinking to the traditional brick and mortar store. What we’re seeing at National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show this week is that innovative technologies that leverage virtual and augmented reality, AI and machine learning, and visual analytics will assist high street retailers to connect better with their customers – both in store and online – but these technologies also drive greater amounts of data. Only those that are ready to quickly analyse and get insights from that data will thrive in this dynamic landscape. We are seeing strong evidence that a well-devised analytical strategy and execution is leading to tangible financial results and most importantly, happy customers.”

“The retail engagement challenge will only increase throughout 2018. After a disappointing Christmas often comes a slew of New Year profit warnings,” warns Smith. “Increasingly, the sector is becoming a two-speed affair. It is now split between retailers unable to keep up with their customer’s demands and those able to adapt and capitalise quickly on the latest trends.”

But there may be other challenges ahead. Shoppers aren’t simply leaving the real world for the online or mobile shopping experience – they are doing a bit of everything, says Rupal Karia, Managing Director of the Commercial Sector at Fujitsu UK and Ireland.

“Interestingly, the retailers that did well had a strong multichannel offering as their differentiator for success. We have found that consumers want and will shop with brands that offer a better technology experience in store. What’s more, three quarters go as far as saying that if Amazon had a physical store, it would become their preferred place to shop.

“This year is likely to be a tough one for retailers, with consumers uncertain about the future thanks to a turbulent economy. But with the right innovations, it could help foster a year of success and growth. Retailers should look at how they can adapt their offerings for customers, from collaborating with other retailers that complement each other and open them up, to a new flurry of customers and footfall; investing in their mobile operations to ensure they are facilitating a journey which for consumers starts on their phones; and thinking about how to truly create personal connections with their customers which make them return to time after time.”

Karia warns: “It is a battlefield out there to win over consumers’ hearts and loyalty, and retailers need to ensure that they are customer centric, providing them with the services and channels they want, if they are to cut through what is a very noisy market.”

• IMAGE Jason Howie via Flikr

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