Mobile Growth Continues—Merchants Need a Fresh Approach for the New Market

It’s now impossible to ignore the direction in which the eCommerce industry is moving.

Mobile is poised to be the undisputed champion of online retail, with the majority of consumers relying on mobile devices to make purchases, research products and interact with brands. Smartphones, in particular, appear to be consumers’ primary retail tool, engaging the shopping experience via their phone in both the brick-and-mortar, as well as the card-not-present environments.

Consumers Research & Buy Via Smartphone

According to research published in May 2016 by SessionM, 72% of consumers now rely on mobile devices to research purchases. In addition, 63% of all consumers made at least one online purchase via mobile device within the previous 30 days, with 33% making 1-3 purchases, and another 30% reporting four or more. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

U.S. mobile retail sales alone are expected to reach $204.6 billion by 2018, nearly quadrupling the amount spent by consumers in 2014. The growth is even more dramatic on the international stage; for example, Chinese e-retailer Alibaba saw mobile grow from just 7% of sales in 2013 to 75% of all sales by Q2 2016—a 971% increase in less than three years.

The increasing dominance of mobile shopping in the retail market presents certain opportunities for merchants:

  • Merchants are able to provide more customized, personal experiences tailored to individual consumers’ preferences.
  • It’s possible to maintain a consistent line of communication with customers, offering product updates, discounts, and other information.
  • Because the consumer is not limited to their desktop, mobile makes it possible for consumers to shop anywhere, at any time.

The newly unbound, “anytime” shopping reality can be a huge boost to sales—if mobile technology is leveraged properly. However, an increasingly mobile-centric eCommerce market creates a host of new demands for merchants as well.

Who is the Mobile Consumer?

An obvious first step toward reshaping eCommerce for mobile shoppers might appear to be understanding who uses the mobile platform. What does the average shopper look like, and what does that person want from their experience?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a clear answer.

Mobile shoppers can be of any age, though 25-34 year-olds are 45% more likely to be so-called “mobile-reliant” than older consumers. Beyond that however, the time-test technique of examining consumer demographics offers surprisingly little value for mobile retailers.

Trying to reach mobile consumers by painting with broad demographic-driven brushstrokes undermines the idea of providing customized, personal experiences for consumers. For example, data published by Google shows that 68% of “influencers” in the skin & body care market are actually men. At the same time, 40% of all baby products purchased via mobile were made by households without children. Both of these facts buck established demographic-driven assumptions about who is buying what and when.

Optimizing the Mobile Experience

While examining demographics still plays a role in marketing, retailers have to focus less on targeting consumers based on what demographic they represent. Instead, leveraging mobile effectively is more about optimizing the overall experience for each specific individual.

The rate of shopping cart abandonment continues to hover around 75%, translating to roughly $4 trillion in lost sales opportunities over the last six months.

A lack of mobile optimization is a primary driver of the transaction friction which leads shoppers to abandon sales. In order for merchants to optimize the customer experience and recapture those lost sales, they need to tailor the consumer’s experience.

Consumers Have Varying Standards for Privacy

This is all a delicate balancing act between offering an immersive, personalized advertising experience and honoring consumers’ preferences for privacy. It’s not always easy to tell which information consumers were comfortable sharing, and which information they want to keep under lock-and-key.

As with the overall preference for mobile shopping, the answer comes closest to being a matter of age. Nearly 2/3 of Millennials were comfortable sharing basically any information with companies in exchange for a more targeted and personalized shopping experience, while older consumers were much more guarded. This makes it even more challenging for merchants to adopt a consistent strategy when many consumers want different things.

Recalibrating for the Mobile Consumer

In the mobile environment, the customer experience is driven by the customer, not the merchant.

The merchant has to walk a thin line between allowing the customer to shape their own experience, and also providing a customized experience for each consumer. The merchant is expected to provide an intuitive, unobtrusive experience, while also offering unique promotions, specified product recommendations and more. For starters, recent data from Nielsen lists out some of the most basic essentials for eCommerce merchants, and which percentage of smartphone consumers consider it essentially important in decision-making.

The data also suggests that mobile consumers are more than willing to forego brand loyalty in exchange for a better experience. 64% of smartphone users expect that a website should load in four seconds or less, while 40% have turned to competitors’ site in the name of a better mobile experience.

Mobile Apps Are Always a Plus

Despite mobile apps ranking relatively low in terms of customer importance, additional data suggests that having a mobile app can be a major plus for sales conversion.

When compared to mobile browsers, dedicated merchant apps showed a 120% higher overall conversion rate. Meanwhile, the average browser shopper viewed 5.7 items per site, but the app user viewed 22 items. This lead to an overall purchase rate of 44% for browsers, compared to 54% for app shoppers.

You might even go so far as to call 2016 the “Year of the Mobile App”—dedicated apps appear to be the direction in which consumers are moving, and retailers are happy to respond. Early adopters of the merchant app are likely to see continuous growth over the next few years as a result.

mCommerce: Challenging, but Big Payoff Potential

Adapting to a mobile-driven eCommerce environment from a traditionally desktop-driven one will be a challenge for merchants. However, the potential payoff is great if conducted effectively—never before have merchants had an opportunity to connect with their customers on a personal level like this.

With careful planning, merchants can enable themselves to meet the challenge of the mCommerce transition head-on.


Monica Cardone