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Big interview: Mobile Marketing Association's Paul Berney

The European mobile retail audience has grown by 43% over the past year, with 20% of smartphone users in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy now accessing online retail sites and apps using their device.

That is one of the findings from the latest survey from digital analyst group comScore, which also indicated that approximately one in seven European smartphone users purchased goods or services via their device in August 2013. According to the study, the number of Europeans engaging in mCommerce transactions has grown by 37% year on year, with 22.8 million making purchases in August alone.

With those figures in mind, and with plenty of other surveys suggesting similar trends, Paul Berney, chief marketing officer and managing director, EMEA, at the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), is in no doubt about the importance retailers must now give to establishing a well-thought-out mobile strategy.

"My message to retailers is consumers have gone mobile, and retail companies and brands in general need to catch up with them," he argued.

"This is not an instance of brands/retailers being able to choose mobile as an option, because as consumers we are already there."

Retailers must understand this shift and consider applying mobile to each stage of the path to purchase, but it is not easy to comprehend consumer behaviour. People are hard to predict and the vast majority of mobile searches conducted by shoppers around the world are spontaneous.

"Part of the challenge is that there are so many elements to think about; retailers can’t simply pick one part of mobile, such as advertising to push in-store footfall, and say 'we're done' because they are not," Berney warned.

"We’re seeing mobile affect every stage of the journey. It has a part to play in search and discovery, awareness, engagement, consideration, payment, loyalty and more."

The MMA director lists mobile SEO, establishing a mobile-optimised site and mobile advertising to push people in-store as key issues to consider in the first instance. He also suggests that instead of fearing showrooming, businesses should be thinking about the engagement opportunities in-store mobile usage provides and "how we make in-store engagement better because of mobile".

Technology is driving retail towards mobile payments, with many industry observers expecting the mobile wallet, where loyalty programmes and debit/credit card details are permanently stored on a mobile device, to firmly arrive in-store soon.

Berney predicts that it will probably be around three years before we can talk of a "solid basis" for in-store mobile payments. It is widely believed that it may take Apple to introduce an NFC-enabled phone for the world to sit up and take notice, but devices operating on Android systems are becoming more prominent among consumers and there appears to be a growing momentum behind mobile payments.

"When you look at mobile having an internal purchase element – it will come as people get used to it," he explained. "I firmly believe mobile will replace all the plastic cards in the world – why would we carry around a wallet full of cards when the same data and more can be held on our mobile phones?"

He also argued that "we're already there" in terms of eCommere mobile payments, citing PayPal's multimillion dollar mobile payment processing business and companies like Starbucks, which conduct millions of global transactions a day via their apps.

A Shop.org/comScore report, which was published in association with The Partnering Group at the start of October, found that the US is seeing mobile retail sales grow at a rapid rate. Some $4.7 billion or 8.6% of total US eCommerce spend in the second quarter of 2013 was via a mobile device.

The research also found that online consumers use their smartphone and tablet devices for a variety of shopping-related activities, with 57% of smartphone users saying they visited a retailer's website or app while in that company's store, primarily to check pricing.

Berney commented: "Retailers in the US are typically ahead with mCommerce. Best Buy, for example, has mobile barcodes under everything in the store so you can scan code and get info.

"Macy's has introduced internal GPS to help you work your way round the store. There are all kinds of ways of enhancing the in-store experience and boosting engagement by adding mobile to the environment."

But in the UK, there is also some innovative thinking around mCommerce – and the MMA director is keen to promote the leading adopters in the retail space.

“I’ve seen interesting stuff from Sainsbury’s and Tesco, both of whom are making big efforts to mobile enable what they do," he noted.

"At our forthcoming EMEA forum, we've got John Lewis and Argos both explaining how they are using mobile in a retail environment, and I think they have a very strong story to tell."

The MMA event, which is entitled Mobile and the Path to Purchase, is scheduled to take place between 11-12 November at London's Grand Connaught Rooms, will cover all the latest pressing issues in the industry. The agenda includes presentations and discussion on subjects including mobile advertising, mobile payments, mobile in loyalty and big data targeting.

The likes of ComScore, Arbitron and GfK will be among the organisations presenting their mCommerce research findings surrounding the path to purchase for mobile consumers. Berney, who will be leaving the MMA and setting up his own company focused on consultancy and education in the mobile field once the forum is over, believes that events like the one in November are the perfect way for retailers to stay in the know.

Indeed, Berney says that it is vital retailers continue to use the data and research that is generated and presented by such shows in order to keep pace with consumer mCommerce behaviour. As the latest comScore statistics show, things change quickly and retailers must be prepared.

For the retail world to truly provide what customers require in terms of mobile commerce, it may be a case of delving into shoppers’ psyche, as opposed to simply responding to behaviours. Brands certainly need to show some innovative thinking in this fast-growing area of the retailing business.

"There has always been the question how do you understand customers, but with mCommerce it is more of a case of how do we understand our customers in the context of a new channel?" Berney commented.

"I expect retailers need to understand what mobility means to their consumers, rather than what people are actually doing with their mobile phones."

Click here for more details about the MMA and to find out how to register for the EMEA Forum.

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