Mobile In Retail And The Growth Of Omni-Channel

I was interested to read this research quoted in Internet Retailer this week. It’s certainly no secret that the mobile is taking an ever more prominent role when it comes to what we might call ‘digital’ sales. That’s been true for a long time in more ‘impulse driven’ verticals such as gambling, or last-minute booking (taxis, restaurants etc) - in these areas mobile penetration is well over 50%. But even allowing for all retail purchases - and remember, this is excluding “in-app purchases”:

The share of revenue on desktops/laptops dropped from 81% to 76%, the share for tablets inched up from 11% to 12%, and the share for smartphones soared from 8% to 12%. Overall, mobile commerce revenue jumped from 19% to 24% of total web sales.

That’s a non-negligible amount, particularly when we consider that most users would probably, all things being equal, prefer to shop on a desktop of laptop. There are probably three reasons for this growing trend: the first is of course the increased penetration and convenience of ‘smart shopping’, the others might be:

  1. Improvement of mobile experience - the mobile app certainly plays a role here, in some case simply providing interactivity and performance that cannot be replicated even on the most sophisticated sites (mobile or otherwise)
  2. A gradual increase in screen size that is, over time, overcoming the obvious major limitation of smart devices.

Between them these two factors are gradually changing that preference. Certainly I see a time in the not too distant future when the smart device is the number one choice.  

Mobile In The Purchase Process

But what’s more interesting again is the clear evidence that even if final purchases are not (yet) typically made on mobile, smart devices are very much front and centre when it comes to the full purchase process:

In January 2015, mobile devices generated 53% of a total 157 million online visits, an 18% increase from January 2014, when smartphones and tablets generated 45% of a total 155 million online visits.

I think this probably tallies with many of our own experiences - and reminds us that the bare sales figures don’t necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to how central mobile is to retail.

It also reminds us of the importance of an ‘omni-channel’ approach to marketing in retail. If customers are researching on the phone (and thus quite possibly in the app) and going on to purchase on the online desktop, then it stands to reason your marketing efforts should be cognisant of user actions and behavior on both.

To put it simply, there’s no point talking to the user (via emails, in-app messages, site and app changes or push notifications) only based on what they do on one channel. Or rather, it might work to some extent, but it’s likely to deliver experiences that don’t make sense to the user. By taking the omni-channel approach that integrates both data and action from and in all channels, these communications will be more seamless, more satisfying, and more effective than ever.