If there’s one word that should be used to describe the current state of the UK’s retail industry it would be exciting. After several years of tough recession, dwindling high street footfall and steadily declining sales, the industry is finally back on the up. Consumer confidence is returning and sales are once again beginning to increase. Store owners, market analysts and CEOs alike are proudly stepping forward to announce quarterly growth figures and improved expectations for the coming months. However, although spirits may be brightening, the pressure on marketers to keep ahead of the technology curve is as strong as ever.
The pace of digital retail advancements over recent years has been unprecedented, and, at present, shows no sign of slowing. While many would claim that mCommerce has been very much a secondary concern for retail marketers over recent years, times are quickly changing, and mobile has emerged as the hot topic of discussion.
Increased data speeds, better optimised mobile websites and high-resolution display handsets are making mobile shopping easier than ever, and consumer appetite is following suit. All it takes is a simple look around any train or bus to see that mobile phones are the point of focus, and digital retail is capturing a growing share of this consumer attention.
Earlier this year, eMarketer predicted that by 2017 the mCommerce industry will be worth more than £17bn, reflecting consumer appetite for the portability and ‘always-on’ retail offering mobile enables. This may seem optimistic, but with wider industry figures showing that online retail sales grew by 18 per cent in August alone, the imminent boom in mobile’s market share looks much more credible.
However, despite the sizeable opportunity, mobile also gives rise to a number of new challenges for retail marketers. Many are already seeing the way customers shop and behave in store change as a result of the rapid adoption of smartphones. Previously, having a consumer in store looking at products almost equated to a sale. Now, consumers are undertaking real-time research and making price comparisons across multiple products and retailers while walking to the checkout.
Not only is mobile opening up the retail environment, it is also increasing consumer promiscuity by making it easy to find a cheaper price, or alternative product, and buy it within a matter of minutes while in your store. But this convenience is a double-edged sword. While it may threaten sales as consumers look beyond a store’s shelves, it also enables savvy marketers to attract new customers undertaking similar searches from elsewhere outside the store.
Recognising what’s at stake, a number of flagship retailers are quickly ramping up mCommerce investment, and rightly so. Argos recently reported a 133 per cent increase in mCommerce sales for Q2 2013, accounting for £889m – 17 per cent of its total sales. Similarly, John Lewis reported that 40 per cent of all web traffic to its website came through mobile, as purchasing through desktop computers shifted to hand-held devices. The launches of Argos’ My Tablet and Tesco’s Hudl, both optimised for online shopping, further highlight the growing eCommerce shift to mobile and portable devices.
But despite this shift, many retailers still let sales slip away due to poor platform design. Research by Postcode Anywhere recently found that, despite the surge in mCommerce sales share, more than 70 per cent of consumers still abandon shopping carts before completing purchases. Clothing retailers were the worst affected, with nearly half of online fashion consumers ditching their shopping at the digital checkout. This represents a phenomenal volume of potential sales that are simply being discarded.
The reality is that consumers are still looking for two main things from their shopping experience – value and convenience. While mobile devices may provide convenience in terms of accessibility, this equates to nothing if retailers and marketers fail to make the purchasing process simple and straightforward.
Too often, consumers are presented with complicated registration, payment and addressing forms. These are a burden to complete on a desktop computer, but near impossible to fill in via mobile touchscreens. Like any consumer interaction, the key is to streamline the steps and barriers to purchase. While this seems like a simple point, marketers continue to overlook the technology solutions available to overcome these issues, instead choosing to rely on consumer persistence to convert the sale.
As consumers become more and more mobile, the importance of the mCommerce opportunity on offer for retailers is undeniable. But capitalising on this potential requires marketers to develop platforms and mobile sites focused on delivering a convenient shopping experience that suits the device and is easy to use on-the-go. Smooth, streamlined points of sale that require minimal consumer input will be the difference between simply generating mobile traffic and delivering mobile sales.
Guy Mucklow is CEO of Postcode Anywhere