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2012: the year of the mobile

Numbers of mobile internet users are predicted to overtake desktop users by 2015, so retailers who fail to invest in the platform will lose out on sales.

The past six months have seen sales via mobile devices soar. Consumers are finally embracing the channel, leaving retailers in no doubt that mobile is set to be the key battleground in 2012. With growing smartphone usage and the number of mobile internet users set to make up a 2 billion majority of the total 3.7 billion projected internet users by 2015, retailers can’t afford not to invest in the mobile channel.

Trade body Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) reports that the total percentage of online sales through a mobile device grew from 0.4% to 3.9% between February 2010 and November 2011. The British Retail Consortium-Google Online Retail Monitor shows that in the fourth quarter of 2011 mobile and tablet clothing search volumes grew by 140% on the same period in 2010.

Such is the strength of the growth in mobile sales that eBay chief executive John Donahoe told the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show in January that the auction site’s gross merchandise volume [a measurement of the value of merchandise sold] will rise 60% this year to $8bn (£5.1bn), and that its total mobile payment volume via payment services provider PayPal will rise 75% to $7bn (£4.4bn).

IMRG head of communications Andy Mulcahy says the channel will also yield opportunities for retailers to gain both presence in, and sales from, other territories. “Mobile is not only experiencing exponential growth in developed markets. In regions such as South America and Africa, the ecommerce infrastructure is not widespread so they are essentially skipping the ecommerce step and going straight to mobile.”

Time to invest

The figures speak for themselves, so it’s hardly surprising that a raft of retailers including premium fashion etailer My-Wardrobe, footwear chain Clarks and department store Debenhams have invested in mobile over the past year.

Andy Tudor, head of multichannel solutions at IT provider Retail Assist, says mobile allows retailers to have a constant dialogue with consumers. “People carry their smartphones everywhere, which means retailers have a real opportunity to engage with them.”

Womenswear retailer East saw its year-on-year mobile traffic shoot up 300% in December. The company’s ecommerce manager, Simone Williams, has now secured the budget to launch a mobile-optimised site by August. “I never thought our customer would be so mobile-savvy but mobile now represents 10% of our online traffic. That may sound low but it’s significant when considering it accounted for just 4.5% six months prior to that,” she says.

Debenhams launched its mobile-enabled site last year to complement its app for iPhone, Android and Nokia, its iPhone app for its Beauty Club loyalty scheme and QR codes strategy. Debenhams.com director Simon Forster says: “We have seen a huge growth in mobile visits and new customers visiting m.debenhams.com, as well as the m-site driving more customers in store. We have also noticed that customers shopping via their mobile tend to shop much later in the day than those via a desktop computer.”

Enabling optimisation

Navigating a traditional website on the small screen of a mobile phone can be frustrating for consumers, who want digestible information that they can access on the go. My-Wardrobe marketing director Rob Moss says this was the impetus behind the etailer’s mobile-enabled website launch in December. “We could see that 80% of our mobile traffic was coming in through iPhones, and that people were coming onto the site during their coffee break or train ride home. What we needed to do was give them bite-sized information that they could consume within two or three pages,” he says.

Footwear retailer Clarks teamed with technology provider Mobile Interactive Group (MIG) last year to launch its mobile-optimised site, which took eight weeks to develop; the channel now accounts for 7% of its online traffic. In January, the retailer also put QR codes onto its 1,000 UK and Republic of Ireland storefronts to direct customers to the site. “We see a lot more browsing on the mobile website and the store locator function is used five times more than on the desktop website,” says Clarks m-commerce manager Nick Farrington-Darby. “So we were a bit late to launch because we wanted to put a platform in place that anticipated the needs of the mobile consumer.”

In hand: the benefits of launching a mobile-enabled site are clear, but retailers first need to secure the budget for development, then work with a specialist to put the technology in place

In hand: the benefits of launching a mobile-enabled site are clear, but retailers first need to secure the budget for development, then work with a specialist to put the technology in place

My-Wardrobe has seen its average number of pages viewed per session rise from four to seven, and sales from mobile rise 10% since the launch of the mobile site in December. Moss thinks 50% of My-Wardrobe’s online traffic could come through mobiles by early 2013. “We need to offer a really good mobile experience to make sure we are maintaining our market share and hopefully growing it as well,” he says.

The benefits of launching a mobile-enabled website are clear, but retailers first need to secure the budget for development, and then work with a specialist to put the technologies in place.

Mobile technology specialist MIG commercial director Matt Cockett says retailers should plan a measured roll-out over 12 months and look to fully integrate their mobile service with existing systems with a budget of about £50,000. There are also options for smaller retailers, who may want a non-transactional site.

Forster says as well as putting in new technologies behind the scenes, Debenhams had to consider the usability across different types of phones. “We needed to ensure the m-site was able to fit the multiple handset types and screen dimensions, which are available in the market at the moment. This also took into consideration that the popularity of touchscreen devices meant buttons on the site should be large and clear,” he says.

Retailers are also looking at easier ways of payment and fulfilment to entice mobile consumers. Menswear brand Pretty Green has invested in payment system Simply Tap, operated by the Mobile Money Network, to allow its customers to save their payment details and delivery address and then simply tap in a short code to speed the sales and delivery process.

Loyalty in an app

There’s no doubt that mobile-enabled websites have the broadest reach and should be at the top of retailers’ m-commerce shopping lists, but beyond that mobile apps can help retailers to connect with their most loyal customers.

Farrington-Darby says Clarks will launch a suite of apps targeting different customers this year, with a version for its children’s First Shoes experience, as well as one for its more trend-led customers.

Dan Lowden, vice-president of Digby, a mobile commerce marketing business, says while 80% of consumers will use a retailer’s mobile website, the most successful are the ones reaching out to the most loyal 20% that use its app.

Apps, he adds, are becoming the new loyalty card. They allow retailers to send promotional offers to customers when they check in and scan product codes in stores, and give access to the kind of customer data in stores they’ve never had before.

Max Jennings, co-founder of discount website Vouchercodes.co.uk, agrees: “Apps provide new opportunities to target existing customers with personalised offers for in-store redemption, enabling retailers to track success rates of online to offline marketing campaigns,” he says.

Launching a mobile-optimised app or  website needs careful planning and implementation, but the investment is worthwhile. More consumers will switch on to the mobile channel in the next few years as smartphone usage increases, and retailers who fail to invest will lose out on sales and be left behind. 

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