Eye on eCommerce: IBM UK's head of retail, Danny Bagge

The ever increasing penetration of smartphones has considerably changed the way people use the internet. And as dial-up connections become a far-distant memory and mobile devices are in everyone's pockets, mobile traffic to retail websites is increasing.

But a recent report from IBM points out that while mobile devices drive 57% of UK retail website traffic (up from 36% in 2013), there is a pronounced decline in average session length, and page and product views per session. The IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark survey also concludes that mobile users are quick to leave a retail site; single-page bounce rate for smartphone users reached 41% in March 2015 compared to 32% for tablets and 31% for desktops.

"We don't browse anymore because of our mobiles," explains IBM's head of retail for UK and Ireland, Danny Bagge. "Convergence, bounce rates, page views – this all means you can no longer do the catalogue structure in online retailing."

"And this is maybe one of the first times we've seen a concrete statistical proof that catalogue digital retailing is finally changing," he says. "It's not good enough for retailers to put their catalogue on their website, because people are just not viewing it anymore."

Shoppers used to browse through pages and pages of products, but Bagge says customers are becoming more impatient.

"We want it – bang –  that's the product –  one click – and it's done," he exclaims.

Bagge says this change in shopping attitudes is going to affect how consumers interact digitally with retailers.

And equally, retailers need to understand how to communicate with customers in the different channels they use – be it smartphone, tablet, desktop or in-store. But while mobile traffic is on the up, desktops continue to dominate eCommerce transactions with 59.9% of UK online retail sales.

"You've got to include context into devices," he comments. "Customers want a different experience on the sofa, than on the train, than in the store, or in the office. And the trick is for retailers to use analytics to understand – and that's probably the most exciting thing we're doing at the moment."

Bagge describes an IBM project with The North Face in the US where it introduced a completely new way of navigating the website.

"We introduced Watson analytics on the front of their website, so when a customer typed in 'I'm going hiking in Patagonia, what do I need?' it used natural language, as well as information relating to weather, who you are and what type of holiday you're going on, to tell you the three products you need."

This anti-browsing mentality improved the retailer's bounce rates and conversion because consumers were taken straight to the product instead of struggling to find what they need. But analysing context, is in fact very complicated technology to implement, says Bagge. "But it suits the short, quick, mobile experience."

And with Black Friday fast approaching, understanding bounce rates and conversion should be a top priority for retailers. "You need to be hyper-targeted and know your customer using rich data from social, transactional and enterprise, you need to really get down to a behaviour, not a demographic before the promotional event to get the right message across."

Finally, Bagge says retailers need to forget about the technology in order to focus on the customer experience when deciding on digital strategies.

"Forget the technology, totally ditch it," he says. "Because you must go with the customer experience and the tech will always be there to meet it."

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