Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

2014 was a pivotal year for many mobile technologies – 2015 will extend the gains.

Mobile commerce/M-commerce

Using mobile phones and tablets to make retail purchases is at various stages of penetration in different countries. In the US, the leading country that we usually look to see where things are headed, mobile accounted for an estimated 25 per cent of all digital retail spending during the Christmas season, according to comScore.

While desktop spending grew by an estimated 14 per cent on a year-over-year basis, mobile purchases grew by 25 per cent. Tablets still account for more than half of mobile spending. In 2015, expect mobile to increase its share of digital commerce and for phones to increase their share of mobile commerce, as retailers design improved transactional interfaces for the small screen.

Mobile retail infographic

Payments

Mobile payment solutions are gaining traction and are taking an increasing share of the spending cake. PayPal, Google Wallet and other mobile solutions are steadily making headway and 2015 will see another big advance in usage. But the glass is half empty on this one because consumer adoption is still at a very low level. Many people don’t really see the point and there is no clear winning technology yet. 

Personal assistant in the store

Mobile phones are increasingly becoming the tool of choice for assistance with product information in the store. It used to be that’s what shop assistants were for, but shoppers are relying on those people less and less. There is no turning back on this one.

Showrooming

An extension of the use of mobile phones as personal assistants – this is the act of interacting with products in the physical store and using the mobile device to compare prices. The majority of people now do it. Retailers can take solace from the fact that most people now also ‘webroom’, which means doing the research before coming to the store. The customer who has webroomed is more likely to come to the store with a definite purchasing intent. Key message – the retailer’s web interface on both desktop and mobile devices needs to be fantastic.

Location-based marketing

Retailers overseas are making strides in providing shoppers with more 'relevant' marketing messages. Relevance is usually defined by one of two separate criteria – a person's current location or a person's interests. A person's interests are determined by things like purchase history. Current location though is a matter of being able to track shoppers' mobile phone signals as they move through shopping centres and stores. This is done using beacons, devices that emit a low-energy Bluetooth signal. If you know where the customer is, you can notify him or her of an offer or discount relevant to that location.

Many shoppers are still getting used to this idea and there is some pushback. Consumer research carried out in late 2013 by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that shoppers are still not comfortable with mobile advertising. For retailers this will be a long, hard slog. The beacons are still imperfect and even when they work as intended, consumer acceptance is far from a given.

Personalising the shopping experience

This is becoming a hot item in upscale shopping destinations. A customer uses her mobile phone to make an appointment with her favourite sales associate for a store visit later in the week. She also texts through a list of the thing she is looking for.

At the arranged time, she walks into the store with mobile phone switched on. The store app on her phone alerts sales staff to her presence and simultaneously brings up her photo, purchase history, designated sales assistant and product preferences. Items matching those on her wish list are already laid out in the dressing room waiting for her. While trying things on in the dressing room she uses her phone to share photos with her friends and get their input into her purchasing decisions.

After she leaves the store, the sales associate sends her a digital coupon toward a future purchase as a thank you. Sounds like a nice shopping experience.

Mobile analytics

This is the use by retailers and shopping centre operators of mobile phone signals to understand how customers use a shopping place. With this information in hand, shopping venues can be better configured to meet customer preferences. It’s an emerging science and one that will continue to edge forward quietly in 2015.

Mobile checkout

Mobile devices also eliminate lines at the register, making the shopping experience more enjoyable. There are technical obstacles for many retailers though, so this is another of those mobile applications that will be slow to go mainstream.

Verdict

Retailers, don’t take your eyes off developments in this area in 2015. It’s going to be quite a year for a mobile, so make sure your mobile site is optimised and you are ready to take action on mobile marketing particularly.

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