#RetailEXPOVC: Five mobile strategy tips from The Very Group

“More than half of online retail sales are made through mobile devices – that’s smartphones and tablets combined,” says Susan Azari, mobile app commercial lead, The Very Group, outlining the growing importance of mobile to retailers’ eCommerce strategies.

This pattern is set to remain for the foreseeable future, with an estimated 6.5 billion shopping apps installed in 2023. Azari adds: “Mobile accounts for over two-thirds of retail website traffic, and with growing penetration of smartphone usage and ever-increasing screen time, it’s imperative that retailers and brands are really taking advantage of this opportunity to provide exceptional mobile experiences to consumers.”

The current Covid-19 crisis is increasing people’s time spent on mobiles further still, for example, Azari points to a 30% surge in China and 11% in Italy.

During her talk on day one of the RetailEXPO virtual conference powered by Essential Retail, Azari outlined five key areas retailers must consider when deciding how to shape their mobile shopping experience for customers.

1. Consider the customer demographic

The demographic make-up of the customer base, especially age, is arguably the biggest factor retailers must take into consideration when developing a mobile strategy. This can help retailers make major decisions such as whether to invest in the most up-to-date features and experiences for their mobile shopping platforms, such as visual search and augmented reality.

Investing in these kinds of features is more likely to be applicable to retailers who target a young audience, according to Azari. “Millennials are one of the most mobile-engaged demographics. Research has shown that this demographic is most excited about new features within apps than older demographics,” she comments.

2. To app or not to app?

“To have an app or not to have an app is a big existential question for some brands who haven’t yet entered the app domain yet,” says Azari.

Despite data showing that people spend much longer browsing in mobile apps than on websites, with 90% of smartphone usage spent within apps, it is not always an easy decision for individual retailers as to whether they should develop their own app or not. After all, Azari pointed out that the app market is becoming oversaturated, following 10 years of app stores. Therefore, the average smartphone user already has downloaded many different types of apps, and the rate at which people browse for new apps has declined significantly.

Nevertheless, Azari says there can be good reasons to having an app that are unique to particular retailers and sectors; this includes whether competitors with a similar target demographic have an app which is giving them a commercial advantage. She adds that apps can be a very useful marketing channel for retailers, ensuring an always on brand exposure is on the customer’s device.

She outlines the big questions retailers should be asking themselves when weighing up these kind of pros and cons: “It really ultimately comes down to your audience; do they shop via other retail apps at the moment, how mobile agnostic are they, what’s your split of desktop versus mobile sales, how will your app experience differentiate from your mobile desktop?”

3. Focus on improving mobile conversion rates

Despite the huge rise in mobile use in eCommerce, Azari explains that mobile retail sites and apps typically have both poorer conversion and bounce rates compared to desktop sites. Citing research by Spotify, she explains that over half of mobile users will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. Developing mobile sites with fast load time, and ensuring there are as few clicks as possible from product selection to the checkout, is critical when it comes to improving conversion rates. “You only have a few seconds of your mobile experience to really capture the user and help drive retention,” notes Azari.

4. Ensure the customer experience is smooth

Not only should customers be able to complete transactions quickly and efficiently, the overall navigation of a mobile webpage or app should be easy and comfortable. This includes navigating to information customers need with little effort. During her presentation on day one of the RetailExpo Virtual Conference, Azari highlighted the mobile shopping site of clothing retailer H&M as being particularly effective at this: “One thing H&M do well is they include a fit accuracy bar, which is populated based on customer feedback; this helps customers choose the right size when placing their order.” She adds: “They also encourage more items per basket by showing items that complement each other and make up a certain style.”

Ensuring the site’s appearance is mobile-friendly is also an area that should not be overlooked, and is one where many retailers are making basic errors. Azari comments: “I still see a lot of businesses use landscape brand imagery for instance, that doesn’t translate to the mobile experience.”

5. Consider the use of innovative search features

As technology advances rapidly, there are ever-increasing opportunities for retailers to bring in innovative new search features for customers. This is especially relevant to areas such as fashion, which naturally provide a lot of choice to consumers. Azari again used H&M as an example in regards to its app exclusive feature which helps bridge the gap between a customer’s online and in-store experience. This enables customers to scan items in store using their mobile, enabling them to quickly check information about specific products, such as the colour and size availability. They can the order their choices directly to the store using the app.

Visual search is another area growing in traction, and this has been well demonstrated by Asos. The retailer enables users to take a photo of an item, and this can then be used to quickly scan the Asos catalogue to bring up similar items for customers. “Visual search is inherently mobile, so mobile should really be at the forefront of a search strategy,” notes Azari.

Augmented reality is a technology that is often talked about in retail, but doesn’t have widespread use as of yet. Nevertheless, for certain areas of retail, it has been used to great effect in enhance the mobile shopping experience of customers. “For cosmetics brands it has become a really powerful part of the mobile experience, to allow users to try on shades of products from the comfort of their home,” outlines Azari, citing its use by John Lewis in a number of the brands it sells. Whether other parts of retail can utilise AR in this type of way remains to be seen, but should certainly be a consideration going forward.

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