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12 approaches that work

Mobile expert Paul Skeldon offers advice on how retailers should be preparing today for a mobile-first world

  1. Build a mobile-optimised website…

Retailers need to be mobile – and that means having both apps and m-web services available to shoppers. While there is a growing use of apps among customers, the best way of being found by new shoppers is to have an m-website too. A mobile-optimised website helps retailers to appear on Google, but it will also helps when customers Google for goods or services without using a company name. Websites are key to being found and selling stuff and, while they lack some of the customer engagement of an app, they are still a vital part of any retailer’s web presence. It is also worth noting that, as shoppers become more ‘online’ so they become borderless, and retailers’ websites are going to start getting more traffic from overseas users – much of it mobile. So design for mobile, and design using images rather than text (see point 4).

  1. …but apps are important too

A mobile-optimised website, while essential, is just an ‘on-ramp’ for your company’s mobile retail environment – retailers need this on-ramp to lead customers to their apps. Apps are increasingly popular (again!) with shoppers, as apps are the place that can deliver the richer user experience that customers demand. Apps also tend to remember payment details, delivery address and have access to a customer’s e-wallet, so are much more useful. Create a good app that has interesting features and retailers have a better chance of holding onto customers. Apps also have one surprisingly underused feature that all retailers should embrace: push messaging. Push messages allow retailers to communicate directly with the shopper while they are using the app or when they next fire it up (or, if retailers can persuade customers to adjust their personal settings, even when they aren’t using it). This allows retailers to send personalised and targeted messaging to customers. So, for example, retailers can tell customers that the shoes in a shopping basket that they didn’t buy are now on sale, or that if they go to the app now they can get 10% off cheese. Customers want to be talked to one-to-one and push notifications, used properly, allow that.

  1. Progressive Web Apps

An alternative to having both a mobile-optimised website and an app is to try Progressive Web Apps (PWA). While having both web and app would be the ideal, for those on a budget or beginning their m-commerce journey, PWAs offer a neat and quick fix. PWA is a Google technology that combines the ubiquity of a website with the reliability and richness of an app. They are like app-versions of websites, essentially. Interestingly, they live on the user’s home screen like an app, but aren’t connected to an app store, and load a rich and immersive app-like experience, but from the web. The Web App Manifest allows the retailer to control how an app appears and how it’s launched. They can specify home screen icons, the page to load when the app is launched, screen orientation and even whether or not to show the browser chrome. They also feature push notifications – one of apps’ greatest features.

  1. Hero Images

Whether using an app, m-web or PWA, retailers need to pay close attention to images. Retailers that hold large inventories, such as grocery, DIY, beauty and many fashion chains, often use package shots or stock imagery of the goods. On a small screen this is not good enough. Instead, retailers are being pushed to use ‘hero images’ – shots that clearly convey brand, detail, volume/size and other relevant details all in a single, easy-to-read shot. Many shoppers abandon carts or simply don’t start shopping because the images don’t immediately tell them what they need to know. Hero images seek to overcome this, so embrace them. As mentioned at the start, many shoppers hitting mobile sites are coming from other countries – and not just European neighbours. Chinese shoppers are embracing all things European – especially British and French goods, which have the whiff of quality and sophistication, respectively – and the majority of these shoppers are mobile. They are going to want easy-to-understand images to buy a retailer’s goods. If retailers bamboozle them with text, they will go find a merchant that has hero images instead.

  1. Social and UGC

Millennials and Gen-Y shoppers – who are increasingly becoming the bulk of spenders remember – have different shopping habits. They are also almost entirely powered by social media. Social sites are not only where they show each other what they had for breakfast, but also where they interact with each other, with brands and find things they want to buy. This is all done on mobile – and retailers have to be there. So retailers need to integrate a social media strategy with a mobile strategy. Use user-generated content (UGC) in marketing; find the people that socially share stuff about your business and turn them into brand advocates; and above all, make your company’s social presence shoppable – even if that means connecting your social presence with your app, do it.

  1. Location services

Mobiles are mobile – so let them interact with the different environments that they find themselves in. Most retail apps don’t do anything with location data and they miss a trick. Consumers demand a personalised service these days, and a rich and thoughtful interaction. While much of this can be delivered on the back of data gathered from what customers do, understand where customers do it is also key. And understanding where they are will also help retailers target them with things that are ultra-relevant not just annoying. So turn on location services, and learn where customers are doing stuff and how to help them do it better, from telling them where your company’s nearest store is, to using geo-fencing and geo-targeting to send customers offers that will drive them to a nearby store. Location can also be used to understand what customers do and, combined with social data, it helps retailers better understand who their customers are; what these customers actually do with your company’s products; and, ultimately, offer insights into improving product offerings and, indeed, the whole business.

  1. Proximity marketing

Building on this location idea, retailers need to look at how to use shopper location to understand consumers’ proximity to things that retailers can target them with. As the mobile becomes a more integral part of bringing the online and real-world experiences together, so retailers need to leverage the fact customers have a phone when they are in or near a store. When a customer is in the locale of a store and the retailer knows they have been looking at something for sale on the site the night before, pop the customer some info about where the store is and what is in stock. When the customer is in the store, use proximity marketing to tell the customer where to go to find bargains, to find the things on a shopping list, or, if a customer lingers in front of something, ping more info about it. It’s all about engagement and proximity marketing – or even just proximity information – helps drive that.

  1. In-store mobile

Building on this connection between mobile and in-store, retailers need to think about all the other ways they can leverage in mobile devices in and around physical stores. Shoppers have their mobiles with them all the time and are receptive to being engaged with – especially to give them things they want or need. Help them find what they are looking for in-store using location and proximity sensors. Give them offers when they are looking at things – if they are standing looking at something, use the mobile gently to encourage them to buy by telling them more about it or offering them money off. Use the mobile in-store too to create loyalty. Payments and loyalty should go hand in hand and they both should be mobile. When shoppers with a loyalty app enters the store, greet them with a message – don’t wait for them to get the loyalty card out right at the end of their journey, do it at the start. And connect it to payments so that points that may have accrued can directly give money off. Mobile in-store can be even more revolutionary. As we have seen Amazon attempting in its AmazonGo store trial in Seattle, the phone becomes a way of checking shoppers into a store where they can just help themselves to goods, checking out – and paying – on the way out, again via phone.

  1. Mobilise your staff

Mobile in the store is not just for the customers: mobilise staff. The two major pain points of shopping in-store are wanting something that isn’t in stock and queuing up to pay. Mobile can help with both of these. Arming staff with mobile devices can see them find the goods that are out of stock, and ordering them there and then, turning a no-sale into a sale. Mobile-armed staff can also take payments on the shop floor, making all staff a checkout point and obviating the need to queue. Taken together, these two things can transform the effectiveness and, for shoppers, the attractiveness of the store experience. While more and more people are shopping online, many consumers want to see and touch goods, and so go to the shop. Making shops more effective and efficient through mobile technology is a win-win.

  1. Embrace AR and VR

In-store and at large, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are going to have a big role to play in mobile retail. The former, which adds an overlay of web-generated content to the real world via the phone is going to be useful for finding out more about goods in-store and out in the world, driving visual search – pointing your phone at someone’s trousers and being told what they are and where to buy them – as well as giving an idea of where furniture or décor would fit and look good in your home. Already, retailers are trialling many of these things – often using games to make them sticky – but consumer demand for them is high and any new gen retail app should look at where it can incorporate AR. Taking the AR concept even further is the notion of virtual reality. This is a more immersive experience where the phone screen becomes the whole world and allows much more interaction. Amazon and Ikea are already using this both to showcase how their homewares will look in the home and allow shoppers to move them around the place, but VR has the potential to lift any shopping experience. For instance, VR could be used to try on glasses and even clothes, and to see them from any angle. Virtual fitting rooms are a must with online apparel retail: the mirror is the only thing missing when buying clothes online and VR can fix that. The fact that both iOS and Android come with AR and VR SDKs shows how seriously they are taking this – and so should retailers.

  1. Voice-enable

Where VR and AR are cutting-edge technologies that garner extensive column inches, the real big thing that all retailers need to be working on is voice enablement. There is a growing market for voice-activated home service systems such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomePod. These allow people to tell the internet what to do – and while playing tunes, setting alarms and turning the lights down low are all well and good, telling a remote shopping list that you need milk and some two bags of Malteasers that can then be delivered is going to be a killer app. And while users get used to using these devices in home, they are rapidly going to want to be able to interact in the same way with the apps on their phones. Siri and Catana are only the start: retailers need to be working now on voice-enabled apps that can handle at the very least voice search, but also natural language recognition. In the future, we will all be talking into our phones once again, only this time to the apps themselves, not to real live humans.

  1. Use AI

And real live humans are also going to be augmented with artificial intelligence. To make sense of all the data about who is looking at what and where, and who is searching using voice, the data is going to have to be analysed – probably on the fly – and no bank of humans is ever going to do that. That is where machine learning and artificial intelligence come in. In fact, they have already come in and are widely used for data crunching to understand individual trends at scale. The next generation of mobile shopper is going to demand a personalised service, tailored around all the 11 things mentioned above. The only way any organisation is ever going to be able to understand customers and deliver that level of personalisation is by using AI to process the data and learn what to do. The rise of the machines has begun.

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