By Dr. Elizabeth Evans
For retailers around the globe, mobility, social media and Big Data are intersecting to create a bold new world of shopping. Consider what is possible in the matter of only a few minutes today.
A female shopper admiring a purse in the retail store can use her smartphone to take a picture of the purse and send it to her best friends via social media for their thoughts on the style and color. She can also do a quick price check via an app on the smartphone to compare prices elsewhere, as well as check for digital coupons or loyalty points. Once she gets her friends’ feedback, within moments, she can make a purchase using her mobile wallet.
The question for retailers is increasingly: will she buy the purse she’s holding, or buy it online from her phone? It’s a big question. Because once the company that sold her the purse will add the purchase information (customer, item, date, time, etc.) to their database and establish a digital communications and promotion program personalized for that specific consumer, possibly altering the way she shops in the future.
This simple illustration of what we call “mobile retailing” exemplifies the integrating effect that technology innovation is demanding of retailers. In order to deliver a satisfying customer experience IT, operations, merchandising and marketing must be fully aligned; whether the customer makes the purchase in-store or online will depend upon this alignment.
To be sure, 2013 is shaping up to be the year that both consumers and retailers will increasingly engage in mobile retailing. Mobile wallets will continue to evolve as more retailers test the technology and early adopters such as Starbucks look to expand their utilization. For their part, retail marketers will increasingly explore the opportunities to customize offerings and messages to individual consumers. The resulting data will force new challenges for CIOs and CMOs to align their strategies.
As influential as social media has become in the past few years it will explode through mobile technology. For retailers the ‘mystery’ purchase influencer – the friends on the other end of a chat or text – will pose an incredible challenge to the most experienced salesperson.
The Shopping Companion
This diffusion of mobile retailing is moving rapidly beyond the early adopter phase. A recent study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activities (2012) on the mobile shopping behavior of 18 to 25 year old university students found that 91 percent of respondents owned a smartphone. One-in-three said they had downloaded a shopping-specific app, and the majority of respondents said they actively searched new apps weekly.
And while purchasing from smartphones is not widespread – yet – the mobile devices are an important shopping companion for information gathering and sharing which has lead to one of the most significant impacts of mobile retailing.
Consumers are also benefiting from the purchase options that mobile technology provides. The concept of showrooming – where customers in a retail store utilize their mobile devices to compare prices and potentially opt to purchase from another source – has created new challenges for retailers that require marketing and IT to again collaborate. Exactly where the customer will purchase ultimately comes down to the combination of customer experience, service, pricing and technological access.
Companies that have effective apps which are readily accessible on mobile devices and offer better prices will increasingly come up against retailers with in-store responses that present a positive customer experience through service and merchandising. If purchasing is driven by a customer’s value equation then mobile retail will bring new competitive strategies for on-line versus in-store.
Lastly, CMOs and CIOs are experiencing the need for strategic alignment to meet the demands of mobile device utilization. No longer can retail channels be managed distinctly, especially when customers are experiencing them simultaneously. In other words, multi-channel is now omni-channel. Successful companies will embrace mobile retailing as an opportunity to integrate their strategies and focus on synchronizing the pace of their technological advancements with their customers’ mobile adoption rates.
Evans was a panelist at the Made in IBM Labs Mobile event in Toronto on February 6.
Hernandez, T. and Murray, A. 2012 Retail in the Digital Age: The Mobile Shopping Companion. Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity. Ryerson University, RL 2012-05.