In the era of customer-driven commerce, merchants are sometimes painfully aware that they're not in the driver’s seat anymore. Shoppers empowered with greater access to information than ever before now expect to be able to browse and purchase products anytime, from anywhere, on any device they choose, all in speedy, seamless transactions. Merchants might be tempted to think that because their website is always on, they’re meeting the needs of today’s always-on consumers. That would be a mistake.
The proliferation of mobile devices, expectations for more in-depth digital in-store experiences and increasing commerce opportunities on social media sites all combine to create a commerce landscape that's exponentially more complex than it was just a few years ago. As confusing as this new world can be, powerful tools are emerging to help merchants make sense of it all.
Those who embrace big data to help them achieve a 360-degree view of their customers and then use those insights to make strategic investments to improve those customers’ experiences will reap the long-term rewards that come with that increasingly elusive concept of customer loyalty.
The worldwide explosion of mobile devices has revolutionized the retail world, and will continue to do so for years to come. Billions of people now have the power right in their pocket to find, learn about and purchase a nearly limitless array of products. And yet a huge gulf remains between shoppers use of mobile devices to access brands and how often they use them to purchase the products they’re interested in. Despite two-thirds of online shopping taking place on smartphones and tablets, just 11 percent of online purchases are consummated on mobile devices.
There are plenty of reasons why shoppers are browsing on their phones but choosing to buy on their desktops, including the slow speed of mobile networks, challenges inherent in navigating small screens, and security concerns. However, the disparity represents a huge opportunity for retailers to meet their customers’ mobile shopping needs. Responsive design — which uses a single code base to deliver information across devices — is an increasingly common strategy merchants are using to support the goal of unified commerce.
In 2014, 63 percent of online business leaders ranked responsive design as a technology priority. That’s a jump of nearly 58 percent compared with 2013.
Since responsive design sites can be tricky and costly to implement, merchants need to use interim measures to help keep the attention of sometimes flighty mobile customers. After all, easier-than-ever access makes it easy for shoppers to bail before a sale.
There are mobile features that merchants can implement that allow consumers to resume their engagement with a brand at a later time, reducing the likelihood they’ll be drawn to competitor. One popular feature allows consumers to save their cart or wish list and pick them up where they left off later. A similar feature allows shoppers to print their cart so they take it with them to continue shopping at a brick-and-mortar store.
Digitized Stores Drive Sales
Shoppers’ embrace of their smartphones and tablets doesn’t end when the enter the physical store. Seventy-five percent of consumers use their mobile devices to access online content in-store. Instead of fretting about “showrooming,” retailers should instead embrace the use of mobile devices in-store.
There are lots of cutting edge sci-fi technologies such as “beaconing” that track customers’ in-store movements. Sidestepping significant privacy concerns about such technologies, before going that route retailers should consider a more straightforward strategy of empowering store associates to help create seamless, unified shopping experiences.
In today’s digital store, technology can play a crucial role in connecting online and offline resources in face-to-face, one-on-one interactions that bring the human element to bear on the shopping experience. Armed with mobile devices to access brand content, products and customer order histories, sales associates can deliver personalized recommendations in a way that’s far more personable than an e-commerce site’s “You May Also Like” cross-sells. Furthermore, once store associates are outfitted with mobile devices, it’s not much of a leap to create the added convenience of allowing them to check out shoppers wherever they are in the store with mobile point-of-sale technologies.
Just in case shoppers didn’t have enough ways to access the products they seek, tech and social media giants like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest have all rolled out “Buy Buttons” in the race to shortcut the path to purchase. In many ways, this trend represents a move by the more nimble tech firms to capitalize on merchants sluggish response to their customers’ interest in easier mobile purchasing. Yet while experimentation with such buttons makes sense, merchants should be careful not to undermine their own brand as they race to sell on marketplaces with such features. Think of it as a warning shot, and seek to replicate the efficiency and convenience that such buttons represent on your own site.
The ability for consumers to shop anywhere, anytime has dramatically and fundamentally realigned the relationship between merchant and consumer. However, just because consumers are firmly gripping the wheel doesn’t mean merchants have lost all control over the ride. Those who provide consumers with a clear and convenient road map to their destination will find themselves rewarded with loyal, repeat visitors.
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