The rapid growth in the number of customers browsing and buying via smartphones and other mobile devices has been encouraging leading UK retailers to design more of their services for on-the-go shoppers. Such revisions make it easier for users to find and then clearly view products, regardless of whether they’re on a desktop or mobile device.
Over Christmas 2016, some 70% of sales at Very.co.uk were made via mobile devices, while Debenhams’ latest half-year results, published in April 2017, showed a 64% rise in such transactions. “The mobile phone is front and centre of how our customers interact with each other and it is the enabler for social shopping,” Debenhams said in its statement.
These figures underline how urgently traders need to adapt to presenting their products on a much smaller screen. The emphasis is on locating desirable products from a range that can run into millions of items, as well as on improving the ways in which products are shown on those devices. More and zoomable images are required, along with detailed product information that includes reviews and ratings, plus the ability to share to social media.
These are all key since although mobile traffic levels are rising fast, actual conversion via mobile devices still lags behind. In 2016, according to etail trade association the IMRG, the overall conversion rate for the UK retail market, based on unique visitors and excluding travel retailers, was 4.8%. Shoppers who visited were less likely to go on to buy from a tablet device (4%), but even less likely from a smartphone, with conversion rates at a meagre 2.5%. We look a lot but we don’t buy so much from phones.
Some sectors find this even more acutely. While the overall conversion rate for the whole UK retail market, excluding travel, was 3.8% for purchases via any mobile device, the clothing sector had a lower mobile conversion rate, at 3.2%.
But there’s hope, since some relatively simple changes can help to improve conversion rates. Last year, a strategy of improving product images and descriptions was successful in helping formalwear hire and retail business Moss Bros to improve its conversion rate, leading to a 9% boost to online sales in the half-year to 30 July, 2016.
PRWD, which advised the retailer on improving conversion, said research showed that customers wanted a more product-focused website. More than 2,000 images were re-shot and product descriptions rewritten, alongside improvements to segmentation and list pages. This targeted redesign was credited with a 36% increase in the mobile conversion rate and 25% increase in desktop conversions.
InternetRetailing research found most Top500 retailers offer features that are particularly useful in narrowing down choice when viewing the range from a mobile device. That’s important since shoppers can, and do, view retail websites from their mobile devices whether optimised for mobile or not. One of the most commonly used features on retail websites is enabling drop-down search suggestions as shoppers type. This functionality helps those buying from a smartphone to narrow down choice and find the items they want. Almost two-thirds (63%) of Top500 retailers support it.
Navigational filters were also widespread: 69% enabled browsers to filter their search by price, 66% by product type and 46% by brand. Again, this helps to narrow down broad choice to a manageable amount on a smaller screen size.
Focusing on the product, Top500 retailers show an average of between three and four product images. Around half share product ratings (52%) and reviews (56%), while 56% enable sharing
with friends via mechanisms such as social media. A lower proportion enable social validation (30%) and make products Like-able on Facebook (24%). But, as we’ll see later, this approach may be particularly effective for retailers.
The checkout is often an area of friction on mobile devices and traders have found that making it as short and sweet as possible can boost sales. Amazon , for example, offers one-click checkout for signed-in shoppers from the product page. Top500 retailers enable checkout in between three and four pages, while 43% require registration before shoppers can make their final purchase. That’s not so easy to do on a phone.
Around two-fifths (205) of Top500 retailers have an iOS mobile app. Around half of those enable shoppers to see more than one product image (52%) and to zoom in on those images (50%). Fewer share product ratings (27%) and reviews (26%) via the mobile app. Leaders in the Merchandising Dimension, however, do more. Implicit in this is the suggestion that many at the bottom of the listing do less.
Early Learning Centre typically shares well above the average of three images, as well as showing videos of products in action. Those images and videos are zoomable via both desktop and mobile devices. The toy retailer also enables shoppers to add products to a wishlist and to a gift list, to read reviews and to see a star rating out of five from a website that works as well from a mobile device as from the desktop. One stand-out feature is the option of asking an owner about products on the site. An owner can be either a previous shopper or a member of the reviews team who has previously responded to questions about the item.
The Amazon app has an innovative and fast shortcut that makes site search easy. It asks shoppers what they are looking for through a search box that combines a phone’s camera viewfinder and microphone in order to offer the option of searching by image or by voice. Customers can navigate from home page deal of the day or from popular services, or head to a navigation that guides browsers to shop by department, by today’s deals or to sign into and view their own account. Category pages learn from the wisdom of the crowd to feature the most popular items within categories such as bestsellers, most gifted and most wished for, while product pages typically feature well over the average of three product images alongside star ratings, reviews, customer answers to questions, stock and product information.
At John Lewis , there’s an equally wide choice of product images, accompanied by clear product details, while shoppers can add items to their wishlist. The app’s search functionality includes a barcode scanner, which shoppers can use to look up an item they already have, or find out more about any product they’ve seen in store.
As well as making it easier for shoppers to buy using their mobile devices, retailers are also looking at new ways to connect the store to online. As we’ve seen already, there’s scope to link to the store through tools such as the barcode scanner that John Lewis includes in its mobile app. In its half-year results, Debenhams said that store information is a large part of the reason why people use their smartphones in shopping. “Mobile phones are being used in all channels, not just online, as they become an integral part of everyday life,” it said. “Our survey data shows that the most frequent use of smartphones is to engage (write reviews, seek opinions, comment on social media) or check logistics (store location, product availability).”
This makes store locators and stock level indicators, as well as the use of social media, important for smartphone users. Most retailers now include store locators on their retail website and mobile app. Amazon is among those traders that show how much of a product is available when looking at the product page, while multichannel retailer Schuh shows in which local shops a viewed product is in stock, based on the viewer’s location.
This approach chimes with recent Qubit research that suggests merchandising messages around scarcity and urgency resonate. Analysis from the personalisation and data specialist found that retailers would be more likely to sell the products that carried such messages. Thus, highlighting items that were low in stock would lift revenue per visitor (RPV) by a mean of 2.9%, while social proof that showed what other users were doing would lift RPV by 2.3%. Using a time limit to promote urgency would give a 1.5% lift. Less effective changes, it found, were around page redesigns (+0.2% RPV) button changes (-0.2% RPV) and navigation changes (-0.2%).
InternetRetailing research shows that 53% of Top500 retailers use push notifications to send messages to their customers. These can be used to flag up offers such as daily deals and, in the context of the store, to send messages around offers that are local to that branch.
But it’s important, says the Qubit research, that such product recommendations are relevant. Its findings suggest that customers do like data-driven personalisation – but only if it’s relevant. It surveyed more than 1,000 consumers in the US and the UK, via Toluna. Half (50%) said they enjoyed receiving product recommendations that fit their interests or preferences. Almost half (49%) said they were willing to share their preferences with a business in order to receive a better shopping experience. And 81% said it was either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ that a website provided targeted promotions based on their preferences.
“What is particularly exciting,” said Will Browne, data scientist and product manager at Qubit, “is the size of the cumulative effect we see for our top-performing clients, with some personalisation strategies having an up-to-6% impact on ecommerce revenue.”
In other words, showing the customer the items that are of most interest to them is more likely to boost sales. That’s something we also map in our emerging practice feature, which considers the growing use of social media images and of artificial intelligence in retail (see page 29).
But, as we’ve seen here, it’s also important to ensure that the shopper is able to see those items on the device that is most relevant to them at any given moment. We’ve focused here on the need for many retailers to ensure that their merchandising techniques work on mobile. It’s also important for them to include the desktop website and the store since most sales still take place in the store. According to British Retail Consortium figures, some 22% of retail sales took place online in June 2017, leaving a significant majority to take place in the store.
For now, desktop, as well as mobile, remains important for a highly significant proportion of online sales.