Mobile’s fit in the customer journey is transforming, say James Lovell, European retail business development executive at ecommerce consultancy IBM Watson Commerce.
James Lovell, IBM Watson Commerce
At the recent Drapers Digital Festival, I took part in a lively panel discussion featuring experts from a variety of retailers including Jack Wills, Zalando and Joseph, where we discussed the pursuit of the coveted personalisation goal, and explored the potential of artificial intelligence to enhance the mobile customer journey.
It was argued that mobile is now so significant that it is no longer sufficient to consider it a channel at all – it must be integrated into each facet of the customer journey to foster engagement across every touchpoint.
Three key learnings emerged:
AI & data for personalisation
As always with personalisation, it’s all about the data. I mentioned during the Drapers Digital Festival panel that retailers are falling behind other sectors such as banking and travel in their use of customer data. Retailers need to consider different types of data at different points in the customer journey and there are a whole host of techniques that can help to drive a personalised relationship with mobile customers, shifting the journey from transactional to relationship-based. For those craving the in-store familiarity of a sales assistant without its physical proximity, retailers such as North Face are using natural language processing capabilities to make intelligent product recommendations based on web enquiries.
Similarly, banks are using data to improve mobile engagement – consumers can conduct their entire relationship with a bank via their mobile. I’m not for a moment suggesting this transition will translate to retail, where the bricks and mortar model is still hugely important (especially in fashion where the physical element is so influential), but there are innovative and exciting ways of building mobile into the store experience to foster a higher level of engagement. Data from last year’s holiday peak trading period showed a significant level of device-jumping, showing the important role of smartphones in the customer journey but more importantly demonstrating that this should fit into the wider ecosystem of communications.
Mobile is also an important platform for gathering data and using elements such as browsing behaviour, purchasing behaviour, wishlists and social media to make inferences about preferred brands, content and offers across platforms. Since the average purchase decision happens on at least two connected devices, it’s important for personalisation to focus on providing continuity for a single user across all devices to truly adapt to the way that mobile is changing consumers’ interaction with brands.
Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, for example, is using the artificial intelligence in IBM’s Watson technology to create a single customer view, to better understand mobile customers’ demands and to provide a single control-point for global distribution so it can get products to them faster.
Content – engagement vs brand sales messages
Whether through an app, a mobile-optimised site or across social media and content sites, shoppers are influenced by what they see and hear from their peers and influencers on an almost minute-by-minute basis.
Retailers and brands have always sought to be more inspirational, to delight customers and build relationships beyond an initial or even a repeat transaction. Emotionally engaging, contextual content is a critical factor here, both in influencing consumers but also in allowing retailers to ‘earn the right’ to bridge from relationship messaging to brand messaging.
For example, the ability to analyse prevailing trends across social media coupled with an understanding of consumer movement across a web platform provides retailers with the ability to alter their landmark offerings or target pages in real-time. This is something that the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) focused on during the 2016 Wimbledon tournament, and there is a lot that retailers can learn from their approach. The ability to listen across social media channels and draw links between influential topics, individuals and moments in a tennis tournament provided AELTC with the ability to engage with fans and bring in new interest, too. Their key focus was to engage fans beyond SW17 and beyond even tennis. Last year’s tournament took place during the Euro 2016 football tournament. Active social media analysis enabled the club to engage with Swiss sports fans who may have been more engaged with the football but were then also aware that Roger Federer was about to make history in a parallel tennis match.
There are seemingly obvious things to bear in mind for mobile content, too. Given the portrait orientation of mobile phones when consumers are browsing, for example, developing a library of content that is portrait rather than landscape-orientated is an important consideration – a bit of a transition if you’ve been used to billboards!
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Mobile apps – to be or not to be?
The big debate amongst the panel was do we really need an app? The panel featured a diverse range of retailers able to address the prevailing point that for brands, an app needs to serve a different, more relationship-oriented function as opposed to purely a translation of the website and/or a transaction engine.
Transaction frequency per customer plays heavily into this notion, with brands handling different volumes of transactions compared to retailers. Mark Wright of Jack Wills mentioned that the typical Jack Wills customer makes 1.2-1.4 purchases per year and as of today, with little incentive for shoppers to revisit the app, they have decided that efforts are better spent improving the mobile web experience as this is a high-growth area for conversion. In contrast, retailers such as Zalando with potentially more than 1,500 brands on sale see much more scope for re-engagement via an effective mobile app.
The role of mobile in the path to personalisation is undoubtedly fundamental. However, viewing it as an independent channel of consumption is risky. The consumer path to purchase features a number of touchpoints which is only on the rise, and mobile features as at least one or several of these. Reaching that personalisation nirvana therefore requires a well-considered omni-channel strategy with the order management capabilities to fulfil on brand promise.