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Comment: The impact of mobile on retail in 2016

As we prepare for another Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, our thoughts turn to the biggest mobile trends shaping our society. The retail world has seen some significant mobile-driven changes over the past 12 months, from the launch of Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, to the introduction of wearable payment devices such as mPay from Barclays. We've also seen a huge rise in the number of mobile apps delivering targeted deals, coupons, loyalty schemes and 'one click' purchases.

Looking to the year ahead, one of the biggest trends in retail right now is the use of data-driven consumer insights. Retailers are gathering and using the ever-increasing amount of valuable data consumers share online to drive more targeted offers, tempt them into impulse purchases, and boost customer loyalty by improving the shopping experience. One-click payments and safer, simpler, more convenient mobile shopping tools will be a key driver of shopper satisfaction.

Here are some the mobile trends we predict will change the way people shop in 2016.

On-the-go sales and mobile marketing

Apple Pay launched with a bang, though usage is, debatably, yet to really take off. However, the percentage of global consumers that has used a mobile to make a purchase is steadily climbing – from 30% in 2013 to 47% in 2015, according to PricewaterhouseCooper, and the number is steadily climbing. In-app purchases are also on the rise, with online mood-board Pinterest embedding a Buy It button on the platform last year. The way consumers are using mobiles as part of the shopping experience will continue to evolve over the next 12 months, as the device in our pockets becomes a one-stop-shop for pre-purchase information sourcing, marketing and, increasingly, a core sales channel.

The secret to success lies in being both targeted and relevant. Retailers can boost sales by delivering a personalised shopping experience through the small screen, but they must also respect consumers' privacy. Targeted offers on social media channels can be seen as invasive and unwelcome, but a personalised experience that asks for the explicit consent of the individual, and is clear about the value of the data users are handing over, can help to increase sales and foster loyalty.  

Rise of the wearable

2015 was the year of the wearable. After the launch of the Apple Watch in April it quickly became the best-selling wearable device, with almost seven million smartwatches shipped in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, more fitness wearables hit the market as consumers turned on to the idea that they can improve their health and fitness with powerful insights about their personal data. In the future we could see NFC-enabled activity trackers which could allow us to tap and pay with our wrists, as well as track our heart rate.

Yet there are some subtle differences between phones and wearables. While both are connected, wearables are arguably more personal while the phone allows a greater degree of user input. In addition to payment functionality, a wearable could one day become the unique device that identifies you together with your phone, with the phone acting as a communication hub. This type of adoption will come down to penetration of wearables and whether the user interface and sensors of a wearable are robust enough for authentication. It will be more critical than ever to ensure that the channel between the phone and the wearable is secure.

The omnichannel experience

As the lines between the online and offline retail world become increasingly blurred, the rise of click & collect services is also leading to an increasing number of showroom spaces – a place where consumers can go to touch and feel products – though not necessarily browse – before making a purchase through their mobile device.

As the traditional role of the bricks and mortar store evolves, Wi-Fi- or NFC-enabled retail beacons are becoming an increasingly common sight on the high street, helping to break down invisible barriers between sales staff and shoppers. After checking in to a store, the beacons can push timely offers to customers driving higher footfall and delivering a more relevant and personalised shopping experience.

The omnichannel experience is underpinned by convenience. Shoppers want to browse and buy online from the comfort of their home – but collect goods from a nearby shop on the same day. They don't want to be spammed with marketing messages – but if their phone buzzes with a relevant deal while they're physically in their favourite shop, they're much more likely make a purchase.

Looking ahead, disruptive technologies such as drones could dramatically reduce delivery times, making home shopping more convenient still. By optimising every single point of the supply chain, retailers can pass on efficiency gains to the consumer, encouraging them to buy more.  

Protecting customers' digital identity 

Our desire for convenience extends to payments and even privacy. Retailers must have a robust strategy for protecting customer data and protecting each shopper's digital identity – but not at the cost of convenience. Complex, cumbersome transaction processes or too many extraneous security steps turn buyers away and fuel the dreaded shopping cart abandonment, which continues to plague the eCommerce industry. To combat this, we're seeing more and more retailers adopting multi-factor mobile authentication. By offering a single, trusted, mobile phone-based authentication solution, retailers can helps shoppers to confirm their online identify without compromising their privacy. These mobile authentication solutions can be used to offer a simple, fast and secure sign-up mechanism to new customers, or verify a shopper's identity when collecting goods in store.

This year, mobile will shift from being a consideration to a must-have for retailers. When combined with consumer insights, this channel can be used to improve the entire retail experience – from online and offline sales, to geo-localised offers, loyalty and even security. Retailers who want to win in this mobile era must adopt industry standards for digital identity to protect consumer data without compromising on security or convenience. Those who embrace mobile now will soon gain a real competitive advantage in the evolving world of retail.

Representatives from the GSMA write exclusive commentary for Essential Retail, looking at how the latest mobile tech innovations are impacting retail.

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