Retail Technology  

Why mobile is key to Retail's future

In the lead up to Mobile Marketing Live 2012, editor David Murphy looks into the journey of mobile shopping up until this point
 David Murphy, editor, Mobile Marketing

By David Murphy, editor, Mobile Marketing

In the battle to first survive, and then thrive on the High Street, retailers will naturally use every weapon at their disposal, and now well into its second decade as a marketing channel, mobile is emerging as potentially one of the most powerful.

Take a shopping centre with an average weekly footfall of half a million people, invite these shoppers to register their mobile phone number with you and opt into marketing communications, then send them SMS alerts when they come within striking distance of the shopping centre, with offers from selected retailers. Would it surprise you to know that this is what a UK startup called ZagMe was doing at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent in 2000?

ZagMe failed, partly because the investors lost confidence in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy – the company was in the last throes of securing funding from US investors the day it happened – and partly because it was so far ahead of its time.

But in the 12 years since, retailers have opened their eyes to the potential of mCommerce. The unlikely leader of the mCommerce revolution was Marks & Spencer, which became the first UK retailer to launch a transactional, mobile-optimised website on 12 May 2010.

By the end of September that year, the site had attracted 1.2 million unique visitors, generating more than 10 million page views. It had also taken more than 13,000 orders, for goods ranging from clothes to sofas and TVs. The largest single order was for £3,280, for two sofas, a figure that was trumped in June 2011, when a customer placed a £5,156 order for its Sonoma Light freestanding kitchen units on the mobile site.

Commenting on the order, the then-head of new technology business development at M&S, Sienne Veit, told Mobile Marketing magazine: “We don’t know where the journey started, but we do know that it was completed on the mobile web, using an iPhone.”

M&S’s decision to go mobile was driven by an analysis of its web traffic, and the realisation that a growing number of visitors were accessing its full website from mobile devices. If you’ve ever tried to access a full website from a mobile device – try as an example – you can see what an unsatisfying experience it is.

When M&S launched its mobile site, the proportion of consumers trying to access its website via mobile devices was around five percent. As other retailers saw this figure steadily rising, they fell into line and started launching mobile sites and transactional mobile apps of their own.

That said, an eConsultancy survey of the top 20 online retailers, carried out in May 2012, found that only 12 had a mobile-optimised site. This despite the fact that in June this year, Debenhams revealed that 20 percent of its web traffic was coming from mobile devices, including not just smartphones, of course, but tablets too.

Yet as James Maxwell, national sales executive, digital solutions, at Prinovis, a European communications group points out, the bottom line impact of this is still not clear. He says: “Retailers are understandably focusing on recent innovations - for example geolocation, cross-platform app development, and HTML5. This makes sense because for many it will mean reaching new audiences, and delighting some previously frustrated customers.

“However, we always remind our clients that for their shoppers much of this is simply expected, rather than appreciated. And although worthwhile, a lot of this development will build brand more than it will drive purchase intent. It is important that marketers don’t forget mobile basics – high-penetration, low cost direct marketing options such as SMS and mobile-optimised email can deliver a very direct impact on purchase behaviour, in addition to the richer media experiences afforded by smartphones.”

Adrian Hobbs, CEO of Cogenta, says that when talking to mobile-savvy shoppers in user forums, one message comes across loud and clear: people want to shop from their favourite retailers through whichever channel suits them best. 

“Many female shoppers told us that browsing their favourite shops in store, online or on mobile, is as much a leisure activity as it is a function of buying a product,” says Hobbs. “When it comes to mobile, if they can’t have a mobile relationship with their favourite retailer, they’ll find another retailer that fills that gap. This will undoubtedly lead to increased loyalty with the mobile retailer, so having a decent experience with transactional capability is essential. Indeed, the deeper their engagement the more open they were to offers and other forms of communication from that brand.” 

It seems hard to believe that the retailers who have not yet gone mobile in some way are not making plans to do so. And as Prinovis’s Maxwell notes, it’s not all about mobile sites and apps. Forward-thinking retailers are using location-based mobile advertising and mobile messaging to encourage consumers into their stores, and offering free wi-fi and iPad kiosks to enable consumers to shop online from inside the store if they can’t find what they want on the shelves.

The next few years don’t look like being any less challenging for the retail industry. It might seem like a time to batten down the hatches, rather than to invest. The stark reality is, however, that those who don’t invest in the future may find they don’t have one. 


You can meet David Murphy from Mobile Marketing Magazine, Adrian Hobbs from Cogenta and James Maxwell from Prinovis at Mobile Marketing Live on 1-2 October, in London. Seee for more information.

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