By adaptive - September 6th, 2016

Consumers want mobile shopping. The retailer quandary: a good-enough mobile website; a serviceable app; or a huge investment in a native app. Susan Kuchinskas investigates.

Shoppers have spoken. Mobile commerce continues to edge out ecommerce. This year, US mobile retail sales will total $123.13 billion, up 39.1 percent from last year. That means that 32 percent of total US ecommerce spending will be via mobile, according to eMarketer.

For many companies, apps outperform online and mobile websites, according to performance marketing technology provider Criteo’s State of Mobile Commerce Q4 2015 report. It found that app users browse almost four times as many products those using mobile websites. They’re almost twice as likely to add items to their baskets in an app than in a mobile browse, and they bring in more revenue per transaction.

It’s not enough to simply have an app, however, to compete and profit this holiday season, retailers need to be smart and relentless in the mobile game.

Can you beat Amazon?

Retail app usage is dominated by Amazon. According to marketing technology company Amobee, of the top ten retail brands with the most mobile-app-related content engagement, the top three had 644 percent more engagement than the rest of them combined. Amazon, Target and Walmart – the top three – are hoovering up consumer attention.

According to mobile adtech company Amobee, that translates to a higher threshold for other retailers to meet in order to get customers to use their apps, as opposed to other digital contexts. Moreover, there’s an inherent advantage for brands that sell multiple types of products, as opposed to niche retailers that sell in just one or in only a few categories.

This does not mean that it’s hopeless for most retailer apps.

The growth in app downloads may have slowed somewhat; but mobile marketing services provider TUNE says it’s still steady. TUNE’s June 2016 survey of 3,000 consumers found that the average person downloads 2.3 apps each month – and every month. A similar survey by mobile commerce platform Branding Brand found that half of consumers download a shopping app at least once a month.

Bad trip

Consumers prefer apps for shopping for a few simple reasons, according to Ian Sefferman, general manager of the TUNE Marketing Console, a dashboard for managing paid, organic, and owned marketing channels.

“They want to buy products easily and quickly -- and get the best price.” That makes apps their go-to. You don’t have to log into an app, and they tend to load faster and work better. Plus, they usually incorporate payment, speeding the transaction.

On the other hand, PointSource found that 28 percent of retail decision makers with an existing mobile presence cited a malfunctioning app or website as a company limitation. Forty-eight percent listed slow page load times as a recurring issue; 31 percent said their apps were difficult to navigate; and 28 percent listed either smaller images and videos or not being able to pay on mobile as a roadblock.

That’s the quickest way to lose out on m-commerce opportunities. Branding Brand found that apps that crash often or are too slow are the most likely to be deleted. But consumers aren’t completely heartless: They’ll typically try out an app two to five times before deciding to uninstall it.

Good, bad, ugly

Ninety-one percent of retail companies already have a mobile website, and 84 percent already have a mobile app, according to a survey of 300 decision-makers across sectors by PointSource, a strategy and design consultancy focused on user experience. Seventy-seven percent of retail decision makers rated their mobile strategies as seven or higher on a 10-point scale. However, only 39 percent scored their apps at least nine out of 10.

There’s the rub: Strategy and execution are two very different things.

Retailers still struggle with the silo problem. Not only is it difficult for them to converge customer data from different touchpoints, the teams that handle different channels don’t work together, nor are they compensated on holistic results across channels, according to Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter.

He suggests a radical approach to the mobile problem. Instead of trying to become mobile first, as has been suggested over and over by so so many, he advises retailers to approach development as mobile only.

What this means is that retailers should start from scratch to design the mobile experience, rather than seeing it as a rethinking of the digital experience. Says Solis, author of the book X: Where Business Meets Design, “Mobile is a unique paradigm unto itself. You have to first understand and master mobile engagement in its own right.” In other words, a dedicated mobile initiative can focus on what kinds of mobile engagement customers want, rather than on what the retailer would like them to do in the app.

App engagement

Everyone has heard the stats about the lack of re-engagement with apps once they’re downloaded. Don’t be that way.

Solis has two pieces of advice to increase app engagement. First, retailers should provide content in addition to “shopportunities.” Solis says, “Engagement with content is important, not just with products.”

Video can play an important role here, according to Solis. Product demonstrations and how-to videos are highly engaging and an important part of the purchase-decision process.

Second, retailers should scatter “content breadcrumbs” that lead back to the app – as well as to a mobile website. He cites Google research showing that 90 percent of people searching on mobile are brand-agnostic and doing research.

“You have to create that content to be there when someone is looking for it, and you have to have a super-tight and efficient click path to get people from that content to your app or store.”

A retailer’s links should be able to detect whether a user has the app installed, says Scott Allen, CMO of Pure Oxygen Labs, a mobile technology and services provider. If a customer who uses the retailer’s app gets an email with a link that clicks through to the mobile website instead, she is likely to just click away.

The best practice, he says, is, “When you put a link behind a mobile website banner ad, that link should be able to click through onto the desktop, into a mobile app or put the user through to the app store if they show interest in opening an app but don’t have it installed.”

He adds, “All marketing channels should be viewed as opportunities for app re-engagement -- and those links should take me seamlessly in and out of the app.”

TUNE’s Sefferman says that the challenges for retailers today are not that different from those that have existed since Sears opened with its novel department-store model. “Of course, Amazon built market share by building selection, ease of buying and price. But there is always room for others to play with a great brand, great experience and great value proposition.”


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