Sitting comfortably? Got a tea or coffee? Then i’ll begin…
Mobile and retail: like two newly acquainted teenagers fumbling around in the dark, don’t fully understand each other yet.
We’re not just talking about mobile commerce from afar here; we’re talking about using mobile in a store to shop around. Consumers using mobile for retail opportunities isn’t a new concept. People have been using their phones while on the high street to check prices and products for a few years now, but it’s only now it’s starting to boom and now that retailers are trying to catch up.
In August The Guardian ran a piece by OgilvyAction MD of Digital, Simon Stebbing, looking at some research it conducted around mobile behaviour and touched on retail. The research (surveying 1000 UK consumers) revealed that women are more likely than men, to use a mobile dedicated mobile site rather than an app for purchases on mobile.
Having a mobile dedicated site should be a no-brainer for any retailer. Consumers have a device in their pocket that can connect to the internet from pretty much anywhere, which means that there’s the potential to buy something….from pretty much anywhere. If a retailer has a website, then it should have a dedicated mobile site, but research performed earlier in the year by leading mobile marketing agency Somo (a Speed client) on the IMRG/Hitwise Top 100 Online Retailers, indicated that only 57% of them had a dedicated mobile website.
Somo’s research also uncovered that 43% of those retailers had no iPhone app and 63% had no app for Android devices and considering Android has a market share of around 50% in the UK, that’s a massive missed opportunity.
It’s interesting to see according to the OgilvyAction piece, retailers appear to prefer a mobile website over an app. The reason for this becomes a little more apparent when you consider that according to the research the ‘majority’ of smartphone users (56% of women and 51% of men) surveyed were Blackberry users (21% of women with a smartphone and 15% of men).
The app ecosystem on a Blackberry is a long way off that of Apple or Android devices and so using a mobile site is probably a much better user experience. Interestingly, the UK is one of RIM’s last remaining strongholds and typically is with a demographic that historically, wasn’t part of Blackberry’s DNA: teenagers.
From the research, it seems that women are a bit savvier than men when it comes to shopping around on mobile when out on the high street, with just under half of women browsing competitor sites while in a store. I’m not going to relist the interesting parts of the research here, but instead talk about how retailers should react.
Over in the US, the practice of shopping around via your mobile while in a store has been coined as ‘showrooming’. Basically using the store as a, you guessed it, a ‘showroom’, which is straight forward enough and it’s something a lot of people have been doing for years.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it. I remember doing this a couple of years ago when looking for a new TV. I went to a big electrical, high street chain to check out what different TVs looked like and how they measured up both in terms of physical size and attributes. While in the store I had used my mobile to do a little price-comparison research on my TV of choice, so I knew roughly what I wanted and the different prices I could get it for. In the process of doing this I had probably three different store workers come up to me to ask if I was ok. They knew what I was doing on my phone, they had seen me typing away, taking pictures and scanning barcodes but they just couldn’t really do anything about it.
The only time I asked for a store assistant’s help was to see what the movement was around price, so that I could walk out of the store that afternoon with my TV of choice that afternoon (waiting for delivery is such a pain). The store wasn’t prepared to move on price at all, or, as I suggested, bundle in something like a surround system at a bit of a discount, or provide any other incentive for me. I really was trying my best to give them ways for me to justify handing over my cash. The only sensible option I had was to walk away with the retailer having no real idea what i had been looking at and where, with no real opportunity to take any action about it But today it needn’t be like this.
Short of confiscating phones at the door, retailers can’t stop people using their phones to browse elsewhere. Instead of trying to block phone signal in store and create a black-out zone, retailers should be embracing technology to help turn ‘showrooming’ in to something they can benefit from, turning any threats in to potential opportunities.
Retailers have been spending the last five or so years trying to get their heads around mobile and it seems that after the app boom, some of them are falling a little out of love with apps after not seeing enough of a return on their investment in terms of money, footfall or engagement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that some retailers will no longer just pump out an app without thinking, just to tick a box. They’ve realised that it needs careful planning and strategic thought to make it work. They’ve realised that mobile can’t be a quick fix, it needs to be an integrated part of their marketing efforts and that perhaps an app isn’t the most effective way to address a mobile audience.
When someone is searching for something on a mobile device, it’s usually something that’s time relevant and access speed is extremely important. This means that it’s a search for something that’s relevant at a certain time and that there are specific details around the search and because it’s all on the move, the quicker the results can be delivered, the better. With that in mind, something simple like providing free, secured Wi-Fi customers can connect to could be a great way for retailers to provide customers with a quicker way of searching the web. From a retailers point of view it could also provide them with a channel to communicate to customers and provide them with an incentive to buy in store, not to mention a way of gathering valuable analytical data to enhance a customer’s experience.
Wi-Fi technology has been around for ages and yet it’s rarely seen in retailers, aside from coffee shops and there’s no reason why this should be the case. There’s a wealth of technology available that retailers should be considering implementing but this can’t be about limiting a customer’s experience through technology but more about using it to influence and engage with them. Less about how they can stop consumers doing ‘x’ and ‘y’ and more about how they can encourage them. If a customer walks in to a store, looks around while using their mobile, the retailer has no idea who that person is, what they’re really looking for or why they decided to leave.
There’s a famous cartoon by Peter Steiner that was published in The New Yorker in 1993 that had the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The same sort of thing could be said about the details retailers know about consumers coming in to their store and then leaving.
Come on retailers, let’s see you really do something innovative with technology and not just stand back and watch the pound signs walk out the door.