Mobile Retail Entering Support Phase

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Retailers need to expand their mobile offerings to appeal to a rising number of on-the-go consumers, advises a report by White Horse Digital Futures Group. Researchers also identified four phases of the mobile evolution: independent, supported, organized, and intelligent.

The study, “The Future of In-Aisle Mobile: A Framework of Consumer-Centered Innovation,” found that most retailers are stuck in the earliest, independent phase. But researchers concluded that many marketers are ready to move into the support phase, focusing on mobile content for customer service and a better mobile Web experience.

“The way in which retailers should implement what we call a supported mobile experience will vary, however, according to their different experience strategies,” says Will Reese, director of White Horse Digital Futures Group and coauthor of the report. “These derive not only from differing functional in-store requirements but also from different brand equities, target consumers, and competitive environments.”

The report says, “Right now, shoppers are storming retail aisles armed with smartphones and a determination to change the way they buy. On-the-fly comparison shopping, scanning, and research are creating new ways for marketers to influence in-aisle buying behavior. But, as smartphone usage in the U.S. approaches the 100 million user milestone, the retailer response must evolve rapidly.”

According to White Horse, the key question for marketers is: What are the areas of greatest opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to develop a mobile experience strategy with in-aisle components? In May, researchers studied consumer experience by accompanying shoppers at 13 retail venues, including Best Buy; Anne Taylor Loft; Sephora; Sur La Table; Game Stop; and Bed, Bath, & Beyond, in the Portland metropolitan area. White Horse also surveyed 390 U.S.-based smartphone users about their retail habits and experiences.

“We expected to encounter an unsupported mobile experience in the aisles, because we’d experienced it personally ourselves,” Reese recalls. “But what surprised us was how profoundly unsupported the experience is across almost all consumer touch points and how this is true even for retailers that, like Best Buy, have significant brand equity at stake in making the in-aisle mobile experience as effortless and productive as possible.”

According to the report, “More noteworthy is the fact that retail categories that are dominated by lower-cost, higher-frequency purchases, such as supermarkets and entertainment stores, also see frequent smartphone usage. The availability of useful product content on the smartphone effectively lowers the consideration threshold, making consumers more likely to ponder their options.”

The survey also found that mobile shoppers are already engaged in a wide variety of in-aisle activity regardless of direct retailer support. Price comparison is the most common activity, at 72 percent, followed by searches for product reviews and recommendations at 67 percent and searches for a retailer’s store information at 61.1 percent.

“This is not a fad,” Reese proclaims. “Even in the very near term, consumers with less advanced phones will soon start to notice their better-equipped peers speeding through stores, not only bypassing checkout lines but also getting better deals from discounts applied automatically to their accounts.”

As retailers move toward later stages of platform maturity, parts of the experience will be delivered without the need for consumers’ active participation, Reese says. Instead, the experience will be customized to the specific contextual details of the immediate occasion as well as history. “It’s impossible to time all this with certainty, but other analysts looking at back-end infrastructure are telling us that most events in what we’re calling phase four will come to fruition over a longer time frame than in the other phases,” he says.

Associate/Web Editor Brittany Farb can be reached at bfarb@destinationcrm.com.

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