GUEST OPINION The integration game
Ron Curry, UK BU Head - Retail, Travel and Hospitality, Consumer Goods at Cognizant Technology Solutions, says retailers are right to embrace the new opportunities that mobile technology offers, but believes integration is key.
The rapid adoption by consumers of smartphones and tablets almost caught retailers by surprise. The mobile phenomenon has permanently altered how people shop; armed with a smartphone or a tablet, shoppers are leading the mobile revolution and retailers are being forced to follow.
Afraid of missing the bandwagon, many retailers are rushing to offer mobile commerce solutions to demanding customers, so far with varying success. IMRG, the membership community for the e-retail industry, found that UK sales via the mobile channel increased by 353 per cent year-on-year in April, showing critical momentum.
To understand how top retailers have responded to the mobile phenomenon and what customers think of the results, we analysed the mobile presence of retailers featured in the top 100 retailers list in the US, published by stores.org. Our analysis reveals that, although mobility is widely adopted by retailers across the pond, there is ample room to improve the customer experience, from which the UK retail industry can learn.
If you consider how long it took the retail industry to embrace the internet as part of its sales mix, it is surprising that 83 per cent of retailers already offer at least some form of mobile service. Whether a mobile optimised web page, a mobile application or mobile commerce capability, many retailers appear to be very much on the ball; however, they are still taking a fairly cautious approach in many ways.
At this stage in the game, retailers do not show a clear preference in terms of platform with two thirds offering either a mobile optimised site or an iPhone application, while nearly half have developed an Android application. In terms of mobile commerce, 73 per cent of retailers already offer m-commerce functionality with their mobile web offering, yet they are not investing as heavily in mobile applications, with only 53 per cent having developed an Android app and 45 per cent an application for the iPhone.
Erring on the side of caution may be the right thing to do; however, customers are voicing a number of criticisms regarding retailers’ existing mobile commerce offerings as they believe many vital features are still missing. These include a lack of social media integration, mobile offerings not being localised enough, a lack of helpdesk support for problems with the m-commerce channel, poor use of rich media and inadequate use of barcode scanning technology.
In addition, as technology advances at breakneck speed, customers can be highly suspicious of new developments and retailers need to tread carefully so as not to alienate their most loyal followers. For example, Cognizant’s ‘2012 Shopper Experience Study’ (based on data collected across the UK, North America, Australia, China and Hong Kong) found that shoppers are highly sensitive about what information they are willing to share in order to have a personalised shopping experience. The results show that, having retailers track their locations using geolocation services on their phone is hugely unpopular, The heated debate around the adoption of the ePrivacy directive around the use of tracking cookies and their possible effect on privacy, should not be ignored.
Retailers need to improve customer experience through the use of mobile phones, but not at all costs. At the same time, it is important not to take the eye off the bigger picture, which should be focused on the customer experience.
With retailers rushing to develop a mobile and multi-channel offering, it is essential not to forget that bricks-and-mortar stores are still king with four out of five purchases completed in physical shops. However, even when shopping away from your computer, mobile technology often plays its part, with shoppers browsing retail sites while in-store.
The 2012 Shopper Experience Study found that today’s savvy shoppers are armed with an unprecedented amount of information and the tools to access data at any moment. If physical stores want to avoid turning into being just showrooms, they need to start viewing themselves as providers of solutions, not just products, offering knowledge and advice that is not immediately accessible to the consumer via a mouse-click.
With e-commerce now considered a mature platform and m-commerce having gathered incredible momentum, retailers need to avoid adopting a siloed approach for each channel. Instead, they should rethink how each channel can be used most effectively to ensure the best customer experience. Firstly, establish the different roles each channel will play and secondly, adopt the appropriate strategy. Only then can retailers build a sustainable model for future success.
While pace is important in today’s fast-moving and volatile retail environment, a clear strategy and well thought-out moves as opposed to rushed decisions to be first to market will ensure better results in the long run. Technology is changing the face of retail forever and a complete reworking of all channels is required. This cannot be achieved overnight.