By Matt Pigott - February 24th, 2016

Mobile is the future.

It's a crazy statistic: there are now more mobile phones than people. 

Knowing each phone is an access point into the lives of consumers, the phrase ‘mobile first’ and the neologism m-commerce will, moving into 2016, be at the forefront of the minds of most retailers. With more than half of all purchases made using a mobile device happening within an app, the task before brands is to incentivise use of their apps enough to gain a place on consumer’s home screens.

Statistics show that, since the advent of the smartphone, m-commerce is now growing faster than e-commerce did during the incipient stages of the web. If the success of major companies such as Amazon and Walmart are anything to go by–with more than 50% of their sales driven through their mobile apps– other companies will soon follow suit.

The future of retail in the frame

With screens increasing in size, circumventing the most obvious problem–ease of visibility–the final stage in the transition from a bricks and mortar world to one that’s hyperconnected, interactive and fully mobile is almost complete…almost. Currently, it’s still the case that most people will complete transactions through avenues other than apps. But retailers with their ears to the ground know that they can’t ignore what is fast becoming a vital part of a truly seamless omni-channel approach, particularly among Millennials. It’s an essential piece in the personalization jigsaw puzzle.

Building the habit

Today, a carefully engineered app is a company’s best chance of trimming back the wild confusion of the web and making everything, from finding branches and checking inventory to ordering and paying, as straightforward and rewarding an experience as possible. For an app to be truly effective, it needs to become a useful part of someone’s daily or weekly routine if it’s to gain permanent home screen status. To ensure a brand-consumer continuum irrespective of a customer’s geographic location, brands must focus on habit forming interactions around meaningful rewards such as coupons, real savings and streamlined payments.

Starbucks is making it h(app)en

Starbucks’ slick implementation of existing technology has helped the company to surpass growth expectations. With 16 million active users, nearly a fifth of its sales transactions are made via the Starbucks app. Forgot your wallet? Pay with the app. Forgot to tip? Send it via the app. Meanwhile, earn rewards along the way to redeem for free drinks and snacks. Companies such as Starbucks are finding new and innovative ways to make sure that brand experience doesn’t begin and end at the threshold of a physical outlet. And it highlights how apps, when cleverly applied to the real lives of busy people, directly drive business, ramp up brand awareness and increase customer loyalty.

Adam Brotman, Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks said: ‘We're hearing that (the app) is creating a whole bunch of new occasions to visit Starbucks. It makes it easier for time-crunched workers and parents to drop in.’

Chipotle, Domino’s and even faster ‘fast food’

In a quest to eliminate queues and credit card juggling, thus improving the overall customer experience, burrito chain Chipotle invested $10 million in its technological infrastructure, part of which was to introduce a new app, a feature of which, Mobile Order & Pay, suddenly made the Drive-thru at McDonald’s comparable to taking a slow boat to China. Moving into 2016 and beyond, this will be a facility that other food chains will undoubtedly introduce or improve upon to provide their customers with greater perceived value.

Chipotle has also moved into Apple Watch territory. A few taps of the wrist and orders are set up with a countdown clock letting customers know when it will be ready. This promises a future where speeding up processing through personalization will lead to increased brand-consumer engagement.

Domino’s is in on the action, too. With its new smartwatch app, previous orders are saved to speed up the re-ordering process. Studies show that people hate having to re-enter their details, or repeat their selections (part of the reason autofill is such a popular software function) making this a smart move on the part of the Pizza franchise.

Why apps still matter

A demographic shift is taking place and it won’t be long before CMOs are marketing their apps over and above their websites.

In an increasingly mobile world, it’s apps to which Millennial consumers are likely to turn first. Why is this the case? To begin with, apps are able to access physical tools native to mobile devices that websites can’t, including cameras, microphones, speakers and GPS capabilities.

In physical retail environments, apps come into their own as sales devices and guides: maps can be used to navigate in real time, find relevant street locations, interact with beacons that populating cutting edge stores, receive push notifications for deals, and scan to checkout a payment. All of these things are useful and will soon be expected. Brands that don’t meet this growing expectation will fall behind competitors adding these additional layers of engagement and convenience.

Interested in mobile marketing and personalization? Check out how Target is using mobile to streamline its customer experience here:

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