Retailoring Retail for a Mobile-First World

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Whether at home or on the go, customers frequently turn to their handheld devices to get things done, and that includes shopping.

It’s almost needless to say that e-commerce has undergone vast improvements in recent years, enabling customers to make quick and efficient transactions. For instance, it’s well known that Amazon.com makes it particularly easy to find certain products and order them in just a few clicks. So easy, in fact, that recent research from Forrester indicates that the e-commerce giant was responsible for 60 percent of the total growth in U.S. online sales in 2015. The company has even gone so far as to activate dash buttons that allow customers to reorder frequently purchased products without a second thought, and away from their computers.

Yet, while there’s little doubt that restocking common household items such as toothpaste and deodorant through Amazon.com has become a routine endeavor, that doesn’t mean today’s brick-and-mortar stores are in danger of extinction. If that were the case, Amazon.com certainly wouldn’t be investing in hundreds of physical bookstores, and Barnes and Noble wouldn’t still be around.

For one thing, certain items are still best tested on-site. Selecting clothes, for instance, can be a hassle over the Internet, as there are simply too many questions that can only be answered when you try an item on: How does the fabric feel? Does it look good on me? Can I move around comfortably in it?

Similarly, talking to a sales associate in person has an appeal that technology isn’t likely to replace anytime soon. The ability to consult someone’s opinion, and leverage her expertise on a product, is something that many shoppers still find valuable.

Forrester predicts that U.S. revenues from online retail will reach $373 billion in 2016, and grow to more than $500 billion by 2020, thanks in part to the upsurge in mobile devices. These include options such as endless aisle, as well as technologies that enable shipping from within stores and picking up from those stores. “While omnichannel efforts are still a work in progress for many merchants, we hear from merchants that these services improve customer satisfaction and directly facilitate faster delivery of product to shoppers,” the Forrester report states.

The findings suggest that retailers cannot ignore this reality: Even as customers shop in traditional retail settings, they like using their technology as a complement, whether by doing research and comparing prices, finding discount and sale information, or simply accelerating the checkout period with a digital app.

“For retailers, one of the top initiatives is improving customer engagement—the way they identify customers, the way they work with customers,” Perry Kramer, vice president and practice lead at Boston Retail Partners, says. “The increase in usage by consumers on mobile is very dramatic, and it really becomes the tool to fill every gap, if you will, in the customer engagement process. [From] identifying the customer, shopping, customer feedback, coupons, promotions—it’s the future, and the future is now.”

Offering a blended digital and in-store experience—and doing it well—can be a competitive differentiator. Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com’s mobile operations, has gone on record saying that “Target.com cannot beat Amazon” but “Target will beat Amazon.” In such a competitive climate, how exactly will it do that?


Picture this: It’s the weekend and you’re out walking when you notice a new hole in the sole of your shoe. You take out your phone and begin to search for a nearby place to get a pair of brand name shoes in a specific price range, size, and fit. Following your instincts, you Google “stores selling shoes near me” and are given the choice of three retailers. They’re all close by, but to make your decision, you need to know if a store carries your preferred brand, if there are any sales or coupons available, and if the overall experience you get there will be positive. As you begin to browse the Web, it helps if you can get as much information as possible about each store. Which one do you pick? The answer is obvious: You’ll likely go with the one that makes all of the above clear.

This is just one reason why it’s important that customers are able to conveniently access a retailer’s Web site on their mobile device. If shoppers are looking for something on their phone, they’ll be more likely to engage with a retailer that has made it easier to find their offerings on a four- to six-inch screen. And this doesn’t mean simply offering a desktop version of the Web site on a mobile device either, experts agree.

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