I’m willing to bet that you’ve already seen a bunch of articles with predictions for next year. And most of them are filled with statistics: what percentage of online transactions are going to be made on mobile devices, how much the total m-commerce revenue is going to be, how much will be spent on mobile advertising and how much Alibaba and Amazon are going to make on Singles Day and Black Friday. Or else you’ve seen people predicting a rise in AR and VR enabled apps, an increased focus on UX, more bots, or the need for mobile-first development. None of that should come as a surprise to anyone who works in the industry. It’s all a logical, and inevitable development from where we are now.
Instead, I’d like to look at the way mobile commerce is going to start moving in new directions in 2018. Most retailers - and developers - think of mobile commerce as something that’s simply an alternative way to sell goods and save customers the hassle of going to a store. To many of them, it’s just a website or an app on a phone. But this attitude fails to understand what makes mobile commerce different and how it’s changing the fundamental nature of retail.
Mobile commerce apps aren’t just for your customers
Over 80 per cent of customers use their mobile devices in-store to help them make a purchase. They may be comparing prices, checking reviews, sharing with family, adding to a wish list, locating items, or even making an online purchase to have a large or heavy item delivered to their home instead of waiting at the checkout and having to carry it home on the bus or subway. Frequently, this means your customers have more information at their fingertips than your staff. That’s a problem for many reasons.
We’re all aware that bricks and mortar retail is taking a beating in the marketplace. The only way they can fight back is to offer instant availability and a fantastic customer experience. As more online retailers begin to offer same-day delivery, it’ll get harder and harder to compete on the first of those. That leaves only one option - to focus on what actually happens from the moment the customer walks into the store. Sales staff who are less knowledgeable than your customers won’t give the right impression at all.
Smart retailers are thinking about how they can equip their staff with information that allows them to at least be on the same level as the customers - and ideally offer them an enhanced level of service. At a minimum, staff need access to in-depth product information and location so that they can make appropriate recommendations. In some cases, they may be able to access customers’ purchase histories and use that to make personalised suggestions. Staff also need access to current stock levels - there should be no need to tell the customer to wait while they go and see if there’s more stock “in the back”. If an item is available in-store, they should be able to have it brought out immediately. If it isn’t, they should be able to direct the customer to another store, or even place an order for them and have it sent directly to their home. Staff should be able to take payments, log support questions or complaints, or issue refunds.
Money itself is changing
Fintech is a huge growth area right now. Payments, loans, money transfers, banking, alternative currencies - these are all ripe for massive disruption. And the main platform for change is, not surprisingly, mobile. The new generation of customers now expects to be able to do all their finance on their phone, and that’s going to change the way they relate to money. And if they change, retailers need to change too. I’m not saying store will start accepting bitcoins, but we’ll see some major shifts during 2018.
Customers will no longer be tied to credit cards or traditional banks. In some countries, such as my native Sweden, cash is practically a thing of the past. Instead, customers are moving rapidly towards alternative ways of paying - Apple Pay and Android Pay, PayPal, SquareCash, and so on. If they’re purchasing online, they don’t want to spend time typing in credit card details: they just want to authenticate with a fingerprint and move on. In-store, they don’t want to wait in line while you check their credit card. At the very least, we’ll see more and more m-commerce apps accepting multiple forms of payment.
Retailers like Target are going further and incorporating wallet services directly into their mobile app. They claim that this is up to four times faster than any other method of payment. In addition, this allows them to incorporate coupons, special offers, and gift cards seamlessly into the transaction.
For larger purchases, we’ll see retailers offering a built-in financing feature, linked to a third-party provider. Customers should be able to arrange a loan or payment plan directly from within their app and get an instant decision.
Before and after the sale
Mobile commerce isn’t just about browsing and purchasing. As I’ve said above, customers want to be able to do literally everything on their phones. Retailers are beginning to see the power of mobile marketing and advertising, and are learning the techniques required to do it well. In the coming year, we’ll see a lot more promotional budget shifting to mobile, and this will inevitably lead to some innovative new ways to reach customers.
At the other end of the process, we’ll also see more aftercare shifting to mobile. Customers don’t want to go to a computer to check tracking information, contact customer service, or write a review. Like everything else in the retail process, this also needs to be mobile-first.
In other words, what we can expect to see in 2018 is a shift in the underlying nature of retail, for both online and traditional businesses. We’ll see the role of store staff changing, thanks to apps that enhance their capabilities. The way people pay for their goods will change, thanks to fintech. And the primary communication channel for brands will shift from Web and email to mobile. Those may not be the big headline-grabbing changes, but they’re the basis of everything that you do.
Andreas Hassellöf, founder of Ombori Group
Image Credit: Pressmaster / Shutterstock