Shopper-first retailing in the digital age

Mobile shopping has become a crucial part of the customer journey, and its relevance is only growing. As such, there has never been a more valuable time for organisations to reflect on processes and interactions that are engaging customers most effectively, so that businesses can accelerate their growth.   

Facebook has indicated that a future of mobile-first shopping is ‘closing in’, and just last month data showed that mobile drives 31% of orders – but where, exactly, does it sit in the customer experience?   

Our study, Shopper-first retailing: What Consumers Are Telling Us About the Future of Shopping', looks directly at this question. As CEOs and CMOs look to transform, we have knuckled down to find out the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of mobile marketing and what this means for retailers.   

1. We’re far beyond omni-channel   

The UK is emerging as a nation that is particularly excited by mobile. In fact, 52% of UK purchases are now made on mobile devices. Meanwhile, 56% of shopper device traffic is on mobile – the highest in the world, alongside Australia’s matching figure – while the conversion rate from mobile visits has increased by 36% since 2015.   

So, what does this mean for retailers, and how should they transform their business models to adapt to this new landscape? Below are four recommendations for CEOs and CMOs on how to set the foundation of customer-centric, shopper-first retailing. 

2. Breaking the shop barrier 

Shops are no longer just a space for selling, they’re also the warehouse, billboard and showroom. 63% of UK shoppers start their hunt using a digital channel, and 48% of shoppers compare prices while in store, suggesting that the interplay between the two is ever more important. 

Successfully navigating an omnichannel world means developing cross-channel solutions that meet the retailer’s customers where, how and when they want.  A primary example of this is through ‘click and collect’. In addition to providing the speed of fulfilment that many customers are looking for, ‘click and collect’ services provide omnichannel engagement and a way to level the playing field against the online only retailers.  

3. AI, bots and immersive intelligence

An appealing shopping experience is contingent on a retailer successfully connecting shoppers with products. Relying solely on legacy means, such as manually merchandising window displays and product grids, is short sighted and dated. Instead, retailers must take advantage of advances in data science to better personalise the experience and inject innovation into on-site search.

Digital pioneers such as Netflix and Amazon are using data, AI and machine learning to connect consumers immediately and yielding huge successes. Today, connecting shoppers and products is undoubtedly being done differently. Two tech trends that crop up again and again in both consumer behaviour and in our interviews with retail experts are AI and bots.   AI and big data are allowing a much more precise understanding of the customer, and enabling personalisation of the experience in ways that were never possible before. The massive datasets now available to retailers provide precise modelling of likely outcomes. Rich signals – such as sensor or machine data, social and network data – are being blended with behavioural data to further improve accuracy. Finally, new mathematical models are being developed to blend these multiple data sources and create value.   

Chat bots, on the other hand, are easing the process of customer service. Automated responses are going to greatly reduce the frustration associated with customer service, commonly asked questions and immediate feedback requests.   

4. Mobile as a digital compass
Global mobile order share has improved 94% since 2015. More than half of all traffic and nearly one third of orders come from phones globally, while the UK matches Australia for the highest levels of mobile interaction – with mobile accounting for 56% of traffic.   

Buyers are much more likely to use mobile phones than those who are just browsing. While 31% of orders are placed on mobile devices, 40% of traffic from buyers is on a mobile device. Shoppers are tapping and swiping while in-store, to compare prices, look up product information, and search for coupons. 

Visit dynamics on phones are also shifting. While mobile buyers are increasing their visit frequency on phones by 12%; those visits are more fleeting, as the duration per visit fell a corresponding 12%. The fundamental behaviour we are seeing is that customers are using their phones as their primary shopping devices.  And, increasingly, mobile serves as a digital compass – telling customers where to go, and guiding them once they arrive. 

5. Flattening the funnel via speed and mobile payments 

As traffic continues to migrate from desktop to mobile, the conversion gap is closing between the two devices. Better design, increased comfort with mobile browsing, larger screens and faster devices and networks are driving this shift.

Speed is extremely important on mobile devices – with response times under 1.8 seconds proving the upper limit for providing customer satisfaction. Therefore, focusing on both page load times, as well as time until a page is interactive, turns out to be critically important. Meanwhile, mobile payment is an area of huge opportunity, and should be a high priority for retailers.  Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay present a huge opportunity for improving the purchase process in retail. In the UK, a majority of commerce transactions – mostly small payments – are now done on mobile devices. 

The consumer of today functions in a diverse retail landscape, in which traditional norms surrounding the shopping journey and storefront have been upended. Not only are physical retailers embracing digital, but non-traditional retailers such as Amazon are beginning to make forays into physical stores – as they realise that consumers want options for where, when and how to buy products.   

Shoppers are therefore now embracing multiple paths and devices on their path to purchase – and as omni-channel commerce becomes more popular, the shopping journey has evolved from unmediated to incremental. 

Retail has the ability to continue to be transformed by the disruptive waves of technology, business, and consumer behaviour. If businesses are to compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba, the need to reimagine and restructure existing lines of business to cross the digital divide has never been more critical. 

Guy Elliott, Senior Vice President, Publicis.Sapient 

Image Credit: PopTika / Shutterstock