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Comment: Mobile capability to separate Xmas retail winners and losers

So the Christmas adverts have begun in earnest and the debate as to whether this year's John Lewis ad beats last year's is raging – well among us retail geeks at work anyway.

One topic that is certainly being debated in more places than just our office is how Christmas will pan out this year. Planet Retail is predicting total retail sales will grow between 2.5% and 3% in December, with like-for-likes between 1.0% and 1.5%. If we take inflation into account, this means volume growth will be marginal at best.

So then, while any talk of a boom is misguided, Christmas will be fundamentally sound. One thing is clear, and somewhat obvious, is that this will be a truly multichannel Christmas. However, what might not be so obvious is that it will be a retailer's mobile capability that will play a vital role in separating the winners from the losers once the festive season is over.

More and more people will be going online for their Christmas shopping this year, but it is not a channel war. Stores aren't pitted against the internet, and we won’t see shopping centres becoming decollate places. Indeed, stores are playing a vital role in multichannel retailing. Not just in facilitating click & collect, which is set to eclipse home delivery, but in providing technology that blends the best of in-store and online shopping.

The internet has been changing the number of stores we need, and how we use them, for some time. Now mobile devices have created another step change in how we shop. The mobile has fast become an integral part of the retail journey, with consumers using their smartphones as a faithful shopping companion to check prices, read reviews, obtain product info etc. when out shopping. This year, however, will see mobile used for much more than simply an information resource. So, in my view, Christmas this year is not just about being multichannel, it is about appeasing the insatiable demands of the 'always on' shopper.

With shoppers gaining confidence in using mobiles to actually make transactions, and retailers significantly improving their mCommerce capabilities, this year will see more people buying more online via mobiles. So now, not only do retailers need to embrace the consumer's love of showrooming by integrating their mobile channel with their instore experience, they must ensure they can cater for those willing to make purchases with smartphones.

According to the findings of IBM’s third annual Christmas Readiness report, retailers failing to get their mobile experience right risk losing customers for good. According to IBM, 63% of online shoppers experiencing problems paying when shopping online via mobile are less likely to buy from the same retailer using another channel. So mobile capability is definitely an important influencer of spend – more important, one suspects, than many retailers may realise.

Those retailers making mobile a top priority will also be better placed to capitalise on the huge potential of smartphones. They will not only gain a larger share of the huge online spend via the devices, but of spend in-store influenced by their use for browsing or researching. Moreover, tablets, which have only become popular in the last year, have triggered yet another shift in how people shop online. With their popularity for online shopping burgeoning, a sizeable amount of Christmas spend is likely to be transacted on, as well as influenced by, tablets.

With over 40% of its online traffic derived from mobiles or tablets, John Lewis is one operator gearing up for what it sees as being the UK retail's first mobile Christmas, rounding off a stellar year in which it smashed its own target of achieving £1 billion online sales 12 months early.

It seems a mobile Christmas is very much on the cards, then. Retailers are set to see more festive browsing, researching, interaction via social media, and, more importantly, purchasing through mobile sites and apps than ever experienced previously. Dealing with this will mean operators are having to gear up not only for the usual Christmas high street shopping frenzy, but ensure those festive shoppers get the great experiences they've come to expect consistently across all channels.

With a plethora of choices as to how, when and where to shop, retailers need to be able to engage shoppers and influence buying decisions all along the increasingly-complex path-to purchase. Mobiles and tablets are now integral to achieving this. However, here's one Yuletide message all retailers need to remember: mobiles and tablets are not just for Christmas – they're for life.

Planet Retail's Malcolm Pinkerton writes a regular eCommerce column for Essential Retail.


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