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12 steps to mobile commerce

Mobile is the glue that binds the online and offline worlds together within multichannel retail. But it is so much more than that, argues Paul Skeldon, mobile editor at InternetRetailing. Here are 12 steps to implementing the best of what mobile has to offer

1. Be found on mobile

Ecommerce sales via mobile and, more significantly, traffic on mobile are growing at such a rate that retailers simply can’t afford to ignore the channel. Google’s search algorithm gives preferential placement to mobile-optimised websites. That means action is needed in order to rank strongly in that all-important first page of search results. By optimising websites for mobile as well as desktop, traders take an important step towards being found through mobile search.

2. Think mobile-first

While optimising for mobile is a great – and necessary – first step, all retailers should be designing in a ‘mobile-first’ mindset. At least half of web traffic will soon come from mobile. Eventually it will probably be the bulk of it. Design ‘web presence’ with a few basic ideas in mind that make it work well on a phone, a tablet and a PC screen (and eventually a TV, a games console, a pair of glasses and a watch face, but that’s all for another day). Sites must adapt to the screen size available to any given customer, while responding to network and location – at the very least.

Such adaptive-responsive websites also need to be designed so that there is no ‘below the fold’, instead being scrollable. All clickable options need to work just as well with a finger as a cursor.

Less is always more: uncluttered design and simple layout, plus easy and clear navigation, have never been so important. House of Fraser has long been an advocate of ‘mobile first’ design, switching all its sites to a mobile-first proposition back in 2014 and it has seen stunning results in terms of functionality.

3. Then think apps

As we have outlined in this Dimension Report, apps are becoming increasingly important to retail. More shoppers are using them thanks to better SEO for apps on Google, combined with better phone memory and better native on-phone search. Apps offer a much better experience, can be much more engaging, and deliver a wealth of extras such as push messaging, scanners, offers and more.

Apps are costly to develop and must be done well. It’s important to develop them on the platforms that customers of a given retailer or brand are using. Retailers need to assess traffic and see how many hits come from iOS versus Android. In an ideal world, develop for both.

4. Context is key

One of the most interesting things that mobile brings to ecommerce and high street retail is that it is, well, mobile – it moves about. And with that shifting location comes the idea of context. Mobile shoppers are not necessarily sitting at home using a phone to browse the shops before buying (although they may be). They could well be in the store looking. Or on the bus on their way to work. Or, as some 46% of British and French shoppers do, according to a 2014 Hermes study, sitting on the toilet (1). Understanding the context in which shoppers are arriving at the mobile site is key to making the experience right and engaging.

Mobile experience research carried out by Sitecore and Vanson Bourne earlier this year (2) questioned 4,500 consumers in 11 countries, and suggests that if a shopper doesn’t immediately like a retailer’s mobile shopping experience, as many as a third won’t return to buy. Ever. Alternatively, when a good mobile experience is achieved, 76% report that it has an influence on their loyalty to a brand.

House of Fraser has done a grand job of using location and time data (along with device type and network) to help contextualise the content it serves to the user, but increasingly is adding in other factors such as day of the week and even weather at location to tailor the experience still further – moving slowly towards a truly personal experience.

5. Give shoppers the tools they want

Don’t forget to look at the standard ‘off the shelf’ tools that come with most apps: scanners, wish lists, native checkouts, messaging, and so on. Scanners are often described in the more technical mobile circles as old hat – even though they are yet to hit their peak – and it is worth investing to include them in an app.

There is more to scanners than just showrooming – although this too can be used to a retailer’s advantage. Scanners can be used to interact with ads and content in-store, they let customers ‘self serve’ and, where in-store stock isn’t available, are the ideal way to convert a potentially disappointed customer into a buyer there and then.

Wishlists are another simple feature to add to an app, in order to offer a better all-round customer experience. They allow for shoppers to put things by for later assessment – and often conversion – and are all part of making the app a richer experience overall.

Oasis has put scanners and wishlists in the latest iteration of its app, along with store stock checkers, shoppable pages and reviews. These are the basics, but as this retailer has seen, this is what its customers want.

6. Joining up with loyalty

Loyalty schemes are a means to collect data and insight into the consumer behaviour and purchasing habits, It’s odd then that most loyalty cards are only presented when the customer checks out. Wouldn’t it be much better to track consumers and reward them while they are doing other things, and then use that information to drive purchases?

Mobile offers the power to do this and combining loyalty cards with apps seems the logical place to start. Data can feed into the personalisation plans outlined above, and create a much more joined-up way of doing things for both retailer and customer.

Customers too are keen. A study of 1,000 people in the UK by mobile app developer Apadmi (3) found that eight in 10 Brits would like to start collecting loyalty points on a retail app. The research also found that 29% of shoppers would be happy to share their location with a retail app to gain incentives and loyalty points when they walk around the store.

Customer loyalty card schemes are currently a big hit with shoppers, with more than half of consumers (51%) claiming they own more than one loyalty card, and 46% stating that they regularly collect and spend points on a reward card. However, at present, only 20% of UK smartphone users interact with a retail loyalty scheme on their phone, and IRUK 500 research reveals that just 9% of retailers let consumers add a loyalty card to the app.

If retailers bring the loyalty idea into the app, then eventually combine it with payments, companies have the making of a compelling, all-encompassing experience for the consumer – and a compelling experience is something that makes money for the retailer.

In a world where choice is rampant – to the point of rendering people incapable of choosing – it’s more necessary than ever to hook consumers into an experience, reward them and make the experience relevant.

7. Personalisation matters

The idea of a truly personal experience is now the biggest trend within ecommerce in the highest echelons of retail. Building on engagement and context, personalisation is the next step in using mobile to deliver a better experience. A smartphone is, after all, a very personal device.

Personalisation seems to work. Online retailer JD Williams has seen a significant shift towards mobile traffic. The brand, part of the N Brown Group, was able to address this change using Monetate to create personalised experiences for visitors using mobile and tablet devices. The JD Williams team quickly built, tested and implemented a bespoke mobile experience, which generated an uplift of 18% in new visitor conversion within the space of two weeks – demonstrating the value of personalisation to the business.

Further test-specific KPIs included an overall conversion uplift of 8%, revenue per session uplift of 12%, add to basket uplift of 4% and average order value increase of 5%.

This personalisation push – leading to what some retailers dub ‘hyper personalisation’ – is also leading to new ways to measure the effectiveness of mobile: return on experience (ROE). Where brands are using personalisation to segment and target, or to differentiate experiences between multiple customer types, measuring the return on experience offers the ability individually to measure and improve the experience for each segment.

Typical results observed by ecommerce and experience company Monetate from this include decreasing bounce rates, increased conversions, increased average order values and repeat purchases – all of which in turn generate revenue and contribute to ROI.

8. Making it pay – literally

Mobile has long been vaunted as a payment channel and slowly but surely it is starting to see some adoption. A study by payments provider Adyen (4) in late 2015 found that mobile accounted for 46.9% of all online payments and 40% of PayPal transactions.

The introduction of Apple Pay – where users can link a phone to a card and pay contactlessly using the phone – has also now brought mobile payments into stores (at least for transactions up to £30). Slowly, mobile payments are making in-roads into retail. Slowly.

Many retailers have been slow to adopt any sort of mobile payment, with many retailers not signing up to Apple Pay (admittedly that £30 limit right now is probably putting many off), but the likes of H&M, Jack & Jones, Mango, M&S and even Louis Vuitton are all using it in one shape or form.

Mobile payments offer all manner of advantages to retailers and consumers alike. They are quick and easy, can often be used to queue bust and they are also very secure, often secured by fingerprint recognition, which is almost uncrackable.

An area where retailers should be looking more closely at mobile payments is in terms of how payments can be tied up with apps and loyalty schemes.

Consider the Uber or Hailo models, where taxis can be ordered from within the app and payment is just taken when the ride is done – the consumers in effect doesn’t have to physically pay, now that is frictionless! Moving towards integrated payment and loyalty built into retailer apps offers the potential radically to change how shops and websites work. No retailer is doing this today but it will come.

9. Talk to them

Using mobile as a channel of communication shouldn’t be a radical idea. It’s all about smartphones, after all. However, using the device to create two-way conversations is something that many retailers shy away from.

Mobile is great as a personalised and contextualised marketing channel, but retailers that open themselves up to letting customers contact them back can build much more lasting relationships.

Social media – which is largely now a mobile-only experience – offers a way to do this. The rise of chatbots to automate conversations, such as with Facebook messenger, offer a whole new way to offer personalised two-way communications at scale. This has worked for US food retailer Taco Bell, which has used this technology to handle FAQs with great success.

10. Be engaging

Creating an app or a great optimised website (or ideally both) is only a first step towards creating great mobile and multichannel experiences. To ensure customers keep coming back, experiences have to be engaging.

The new-look app from Oasis includes integrated social content, ‘get the look’ shoppable pages and a booking system for personal styling. This is all designed to make the app – and therefore the brand – much more engaging and compelling. The company’s move comes hot on the heels of Missguided’s recent launch of an app that was not only transactional, but also offers a Tinder-like ‘swipe to like’ functionality to make it more engaging and fun.

Both Oasis and Missguided are early adopters of the idea that experience and personalisation (see point 7) are the key tropes of a good omnichannel strategy.

11. In-store factors

Until recently mobile was considered a separate channel through which to sell, but today this isn’t really the case. As the previous 10 points have shown, mobile is a tool that links online and offline together – and throws in personalisation, context, location, payments, loyalty and even the weather for good measure. But where any top retailer really scores is how mobile is used in-store.

Investing in mobile apps will bring customers back into retail stores, and help avoid the loss of 900,000 jobs, as estimated by the BRC (5), and thousands of high street stores in the next decade. So says app developer Apadmi, which took a poll of 1,000 UK smartphone users and found that mobile apps can drive consumers back to the high street if they add to the overall shopping experience.

However, at present, retailers are failing to connect these channels effectively, and in the way that consumers want. Currently, just 31% of consumers are using retail mobile apps whilst walking around the store, yet the research found that an additional 41% of consumers would use a retail mobile app if it enhanced the in-store experience. On top of this, 29% of consumers would be happy to share their locations with a retail app to receive contextual rich messages, incentives, or offers in-store.

12. Forget mobile!

Mobile is increasingly the central pillar of multichannel retail, linking the online and offline worlds, and being an integral part of ecommerce, marketing and engagement. So now is the time to forget all about ‘mobile’

and focus instead on ‘total retail’. Mobile should be the centre of everything that retailers do, but consumers don’t think in channels, they just want to shop in the way that suits them in that instant, so retailers need to be there for them across all those channels simultaneously. And this is perhaps what makes mobile so daunting – and why relatively few retailers are really doing it well – because it is so key that no-one knows where to start. But start retailers must. Go mobile and then go for it, and let customers lead the way.

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