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12 approaches to Mobile & Cross-channel shopping

Prioritising the shopping device that’s always close to hand makes sense for IRUK Top500 retailers. Here are 12 strategies that these leading companies use both to improve the m-retailing experience and to put mobile at the heart of their multichannel businesses

1. Mobile-first strategies

As more and more ecommerce traffic comes via mobile devices, it makes sense to ensure that shoppers have the best online experience via their smartphones.

The focus at Asos on “being awesome on mobile” comes in response to the fact that 70% of its traffic came via mobile devices in the first half of its latest financial year, as did 58% of the pureplay’s orders. That’s up from 60% and 51% respectively a year earlier. One place it has prioritised mobile is at the checkout: it is deploying its mobile checkout across all channels and will soon add to the experience with the introduction of Apple Pay. It plans a new My Account section that enables mobile customers to find their order histories, delivery and returns updates along with wishlists, all in one place. “We now offer a cutting-edge customer experience designed and developed with a mobile-first approach, using the latest technologies to provide a new, seamless checkout experience for our customers,” the retailer said in its half-year results.

Asos reported a 28% in daily app downloads in those results. It says customers who have downloaded the app visit it around eight times a month, and spend more than 1h 20m on it.

2. Give shoppers a reason to download an app

Shoppers need to be loyal to download an app: not only is there the initial effort of downloading it, but once installed apps take up valuable storage space. Nonetheless, once downloaded they are likely to be frequently used. It’s important, therefore, for retailers to give shoppers a good reason to download.

The major reasons that Game gives its shoppers to download the app include the ability to use augmented reality to play in-store games, and its Reward Account. Members collect loyalty points through actions from registering the app to buying in store. Such a scheme, said Fred Prego, director of loyalty and marketing at the retailer, speaking at IRX 2017 fosters changing behaviour. “By using the app more often, we encouraged them to come into the stores more often and engage with us.”

The data that Game holds on its customers also personalises the shopping experience: when they scan gaming devices and games in any shop, they see what the Game price for that item would be, once their points balances are taken into account. “You can scan a game at our competitors and see the price you would get in our stores,” said Prego. “We’re trying to say, ‘Don’t buy it from our competitors – buy it from us.’” He added: “It’s amazing what you can do with technology and how you can adapt that technology to suit your objectives as a retailer and a business.”

3. Bridging the gap

Mobile helps to bridge the gap between online and the store effectively when it’s used to offer services that call on both channels, whether that’s enabling easier collection of goods ordered online or offering easy ways to navigate a store.

Tesco has taken digital in-store with the introduction of fast payment app PayQwik, which enables shoppers to scan and pay for their in-store grocery shopping via their own smartphones. When it comes time to checkout, shoppers generate a QR code that they scan and pay to complete their purchases.

Debenhams aims to use mobile to encourage more shoppers into store. Already, more than 30% of its online sales are collected in stores. The department store now plans to put its fast-growing mobile channel, where sales grew by 64% in the half-year to 4 March 2017, to work to encourage shoppers to its high street presence. From this autumn, it will trial a ‘click, collect and play’ service, which ties into personal shopping advice. It aims to make Debenhams a leader in mobile-focused ‘social shopping’, which it defines as “shopping as a fun leisure activity enjoyed with friends and family and shared via social media”. To this end it plans to create an “engaging and inspiring” online and offline environment, upgrading its mobile platform to “help us unite channels and connect better with our customers”.

4. Narrow down search choices

Shopping via a mobile device brings its own challenges. The relatively small size of smartphone screens, for example, means users can’t see as many products as they can on a desktop screen. Technologies that help narrow down their search options mean shoppers move quickly to find the products that are right for them. That might be through effective mobile searches, with dropdown suggestions, or through navigation that takes shoppers to the right categories quickly, and enables filtering to reach the most relevant products.

Some retailers are finding new ways to narrow down search options., for example, is using touch-based technology from Hullabalook that enables shoppers using its UK, French, German or Dutch websites to search for the type of furniture they want by the size of the space available, pinching and enlarging a scale. Hullabalook founder Bryony Elliot has noted: “Retailers have a rapidly diminishing window to allow customers to browse a superabundant and burgeoning product catalogue. Together, and Hullabalook developed SofaSizer to make visual discovery of just the right piece of furniture or storage fast fun and frictionless online, especially via mobile.”

5. Managing delivery

Today’s on-the-go shoppers can manage their online deliveries wherever they are – using their smartphones or other mobile devices. It’s no longer the case that when their plans change, deliveries get missed. More retailers are offering their customers the ability to change plans in-flight, sending text messages to confirm times of delivery, and offering customers the chance to change where and when items will be delivered, even after they have been sent out for delivery. That means shoppers buying from retailers such as Asos and New Look, which use the DPD Precise service, can change their minds if they are called out at the last minute or find it more convenient to pick up from a neighbour or a local collection point. DPD and UPS are among the delivery companies that have launched their own apps, enabling shoppers to manage deliveries that are sent to them via their services, saving their preferred delivery times and places, and tracking orders.

6. Get mobile payments right

Ordering from mobile devices is growing as shoppers find it easier to pay from these devices. Retailers that inspire trust and make it easier to pay are benefiting. They do this through a variety of approaches that are making inputting credit card numbers and security codes a thing of the past. Retailers offer a variety of mobile-friendly payment options that range from digital wallets, with credit card details saved in advance, or alternative payments that are mobile-friendly. Amazon, for example, offers one-click ordering to signed-in customers when they buy via the mobile web or via its apps. Apple is among the retailers that enable payment by fingerprint ID on iOS devices that carry its own Apple Pay system.

Meanwhile, footware retailer Schuh uses Klarna technology to give shoppers the option of buying using their email and delivery addresses only. Customers pay after delivery, entering their payment details at a convenient moment. Its ecommerce and customer experience director Sean McKee says this has helped to make the payments process painless, lifting conversions as a result. The service, he says, is “boosting sales while reducing friction for our important online shoppers”.

7. Consider the customer’s direction of travel

Smartphones represent a shopping tool that commuters have to hand on often long journeys to and from the office. When retailers track the source of their traffic at different times of day it’s often evident that many are browsing on the way to work. When retailers allow it, shoppers will use their mobiles to complete essential tasks, such as grocery shopping at convenient moments in their days.

Forward-thinking retailers have built customer experiences around this use of smartphones. Not only can shoppers place their orders wherever they are, using their mobile phones, they can now pick up their shopping from convenient places on their journeys home – whether that’s Argos’ digital-format store at Cannon Street Underground station or in branches of Sainsbury’s, the John Lewis commuter store at St Pancras station, or from supermarket Ocado at various points on the Transport for London network.

8. Email for mobile

More than half (54%) of emails in the UK are opened on a mobile device, according to Litmus’ March 2017 State of Email report. It’s important to ensure that messages can be easily read and acted on by optimising for mobile: using responsive design will ensure links can be touched to open, and phone numbers to dial. Saima Alibhai, practice manager, professional services at Bronto, suggests setting up reminders to dual-screening consumers who browse while watching television. “Just because someone is browsing on their phone they might not necessarily be that engaged and get distracted by the TV,” she says. “A retailer can set an automated trigger that will send a browse recovery email and drive them back to continue that conversation around the product.”

9. Social media

Retailers are using social media as a way to communicate directly to customers who favour their mobile devices as a way of shopping. That makes sense since, according to, 84% of all UK adults use social media, while almost 80% of time spent on social media happens via mobile. Fashion retailers were among the first to use mobile-only social channel Snapchat to tell brand stories. Topshop, for example, uses Snapchat to engage followers around fashion shoots. Burberry was among the retailers using Instagram to livestream its London Fashion Week catwalk shows earlier this year.

Debenhams, meanwhile, promises to put mobile at the heart of a new social shopping experience, and has added WhatsApp to customer service channels that already include a variety of social media channels. IRUK Top500 research into brand engagement via social media shows that IRUK Top500 retailer Matalan supports six social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Google Plus – and also operates a blog. Shoe retailer Schuh has seven social media channels – as well as those operated by Matalan, the retailer also has a Snapchat channel.

10. Think international

International customers are ever-more likely to use their smartphones to search for international brands and to shop. The latest Online Retail Monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Google points to 23% growth in interest in UK brands from overseas searches in the fourth quarter of 2016. That interest has grown particularly strongly in Europe. According to Google retail director Martijn Bertisen, it comes both as sterling has weakened against other currencies, and from mobile devices. “Increased demand is largely coming from smartphones, with triple-digit growth observed in some regions,” he has noted. But, he warned, “In this mobile-first world, having a great user experience is crucial for our retailers. A recent Google study found that only five of the top-20 UK retailers’ mobile sites load in less than two seconds.”

Meantime, UK retailers are continuing to benefit from a boost to exports that has come as the pound weakened in the wake of the decision to leave the EU.

One interesting approach to international mobile shopping comes from Asos, which enables customers to personalise their use of the app to their situation: shoppers can be based in one country with its local delivery options but pay in another currency. Thus, an app user might select France to see products presented in the French language, but pay in Norwegian krone or Hong Kong dollars. When users of the Next mobile website localise themselves to any of 72 countries, they see local delivery options, language and currency.

11. Enable shoppers to check stock levels

Mobile acts as an effective remote control for the store when it gives information about in-store stock levels. That’s important for customers who are looking for a specific product and want to know if it’s worth making the trip to the store.

Shoppers who save their preferences on the House of Fraser app can see if items that they are looking at via their phones is in stock in a favoured location.

The Schuh mobile website also shows where a product is in stock, based on the viewer’s geographic location, while shoppers using the John Lewis app can scan a barcode to see ratings and reviews for that product, as well as how soon the item can be delivered or collected from a store.

12. Learn from the customer

New technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence underpin mobile apps and websites that learn from the customer as they browse and buy. This means they are more likely to show the customer relevant items in future, or to answer questions in the most relevant way.

Poq’s Tinder-style app for Missguided enables shoppers to flick through items in a way that enables the app to learn their style in order to make future recommendations.

Shop Direct, the retailer behind the Very brand, is building on the WhatsApp-style Very Assistant in its Very app, which provides automated answers to questions, by working with IBM Watson to develop an AI-powered conversational user interface (CUI) that promises a more personalised experience when it’s introduced later this year.

Alex Baldock, group chief executive at Shop Direct, said, at the time of the Very Assistant launch: “In the long term we believe AI-driven CUI will go even further by democratising the personal shopper. The more customers talk to us the better we’ll know them – AI learns on its own. Why should top-notch personalised service be restricted to those who can afford to shop in Bond Street? It’s a bold ambition, but it fits our goal of becoming a world-class digital retailer and we believe in it.”

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