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Why retailers should design mobile for the experience, not the device

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Put five “masters of mobile” on a panel and you get a lot of interesting thinking about where mobile is heading for the retail industry. That's just what we had on hand at last month's Annual Summit in Denver. Vice President for the The Aberdeen Group Sahir Anand moderated the panel of mobile retailing executives including Leapfactor CEO and Founder Lionel Carrasco, Kony Solutions Chief Mobile Officer Sam Lakkundi, Swirl Networks VP of Marketing Rob Murphy, and Usablenet's Chief Marketing Office Carin Van Vuuren who each shared how they see mobile shaping the next several years in retail.

Anand kicked off the session with some thoughts about the next three to five year “roadmap” for mobile in retail. He started off with what thousands of attendees had already been buzzing about - that mobile personalization is a major factor. “What e-commerce has done well is to understand buying behavior, [that is,] the stated preferences of the consumer…” across product suggestions, marketing and more. So how do retailers truly personalize the mobile experience? "In any mobile initiative, data is important, but what’s also important is how the consumer interacts with it for shopping to make the customer experience more interactive and more effective.” In the mobile arena, personalization has to be "device agnostic" and cover many different form factors, Anand added.

Furthermore, he emphasized, “Any definition of mobility has to include both consumer and in-store associate access. “ Unlike the “showrooming” concept, he continued, “When you integrate mobile with the employee and employee behavior, mobility becomes much more impactful.” Next, Anand and the panelists explored a number of key questions around mobile’s role in retail going forward.

How important is consumer experience to a mobile strategy – and what does that look like? Usablenet’s Van Vuuren declared that mobile strategy, “is the most important thing for retailers to focus on. The big shift is that mobile is not about devices – mobile is the entire experience.” She explained that her firm tries to, “Look at the entire journey. [We] design the experience around that and let the technology support that.” She cited Marks & Spencer as “pushing the envelope” for a “deliberate experience for the app, mobile web, and in-store kiosk.” The challenges on this journey, she added, include analytics and conversion to understand the efficacy of mobile.

How about the state of mobility today? What are the merits and pitfalls and why should companies care? Swirl’s Murphy observed that mobile is ‘here’ from the consumer perspective. Therefore, the big question is how retailers should create the right experience. Murphy pointed to Starbucks’ high adoption and use for its mobile payment app as one of the biggest examples in the industry. The same goes for flash sale sites Rue La La & Gilt Groupe , to which Murphy noted that, “30% of their business is done by mobile for very time sensitive purchases.” Simply put, the onus is on retailers to create experiences for consumers to use the device that they have in hand as they walk into the store. Things like “style advice, tracking their shopping history, wish lists, loyalty programs”, etc. Kony’s Lakkundi added that retailers need to “make sure the experience is solid” – and most importantly, trustworthy and useful.

What about the “fear” that mobile has replaced or will replace point-of-sale (POS)? “It goes back to understanding the whole customer experience. If the desktop POS disappears, that changes the whole store experience,” Leapfactor’s Carrasco emphasized. In general, he said, consumers are shaping their own shopping experience while potentially rendering store associates “powerless." Instead, Carrasco advised that retailers need to empower the store associate to “provide real service” by giving them information about the customer, where the customer lives, their shopping history and the like.

Carrasco added that with the combination of the empowered store associate toting mobile devices that are starting to replace traditional POS, the store POS will become a, “point of interaction and point of engagement – not just a checkout experience.” Using an analogy from the pharmaceutical industry, Carrasco recounted that Bayer sales reps who go into a doctor’s office with an iPad have doubled the time they spent with the doctor, a significant metric for that industry. Bringing it back to retail, Carrasco noted that in the store, this can “[similarly] empower store associate and will directly improve the bottom line.”

What role does mobile play in an omnichannel strategy? “Mobile is the bridge that goes between the channels,” Van Vuuren explained. Retailers shouldn’t see mobile as a single device but rather as an experience – to which Anand added, “Mobile is an experience strategy, not a device strategy.” Retailers need to think how design for enhanced usability and seamless browsing and shopping. As one example, if you think about the “virtual basket” that goes with the customer across channels, the retailer needs to understand whether the customer just wants to save an item for later consideration or if he/she is ready to buy on the spot.

Which are the social aspects of mobile for retail? Murphy reminded the audience that social is top of mind for the consumer, whether sharing their location with friends, checking in, and more. Retailers need to think about how everything they do “creates social opportunities” for consumers to engage. Strong examples include writing product reviews, talking about styles that they do or don’t like, commenting on brands, etc. Van Vuuren reminded the audience of the risk of appearing as "gimmicky", noting that, “The magic of social is authenticity."

Ultimately, while questions persist about the business case and ROI from mobile, panelists noted, the retailer’s challenge with mobile is not about completing the transaction – it’s about mobile helping to drive a better experience overall, regardless of where the sale actually happens.