The Role of Mobile in Omnichannel Commerce

Brands are competing for every customer in a hyperconnected world. The competition is fierce and retailers are vying constantly for the customers’ attention wherever they are. Considering the plethora of customer touchpoints and channels, it is easy for the messaging, value proposition and call to action to disperse and dissipate. Retailers interact with customers using social networks, websites, physical stores, and TV to name a few channels. Add to that the different devices customers interact with brands and you begin to realize how complex customer experiences have become to manage.

Omnichannel is the orchestration of all touchpoints into a consistent, seamless and emotionally engaging journey. Commerce should be thought of as a metonymy. We intuitively think of commerce from a transactional viewpoint and associate it with the exchange of products and services. However, this intuition is dangerous and retailers who fail to realize that commerce pertains to much broader relationships and emotional connections will find themselves on the losing end of this competition.

In a wide array of devices and channels, mobile holds a crucial role. It is oftentimes the first point of engagement for the customer and is the largest purchase influencer. According to a study by Deloitte, digital, as a whole, influenced approximately 56% of total in-store sales in the US ($2.1T) in 2016, a 14% growth compared to 2015. Mobile influenced about 36% of in-store sales, or $1.4T in 2016; a growth of 32% compared to 2015. Its ubiquity and meteoric growth as an influencer have made it pivotal in delivering seamless omnichannel customer experiences.

While omnichannel is about keeping continuous touch with customers, customers are in “shopping mode” only sporadically. They go on the retailers’ website or open their apps only when they are actively looking for a product or have a clear intention to buy. The majority of the time people spend engaging in social network activities, such as sharing pictures on Instagram, or spending time on Facebook. The most immediately available device to that end and the most frequently used is, not surprisingly, mobile. According to WSJ, people spend overwhelmingly more time on mobile to access social networks.

Moreover, people spend in general more time on mobile when surfing the internet. This is not unique to the US as is evident in the following chart:

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Source: eMarketer

An immediate and somewhat myopic conclusion is for retailers to pay special attention to direct marketing activities that run on mobile. However, developing relationships with customers calls for a frame of mind that transcends a transactional viewpoint. Such framework requires investing more time and efforts in social activities that can help customers engage with the brand and develop an emotional stance toward it. This is an investment in customers mindshare even before they are thinking about buying anything.

It is somewhat surprising that even though mobile significantly influences in-store sales, its relative share of sales is very low. E-commerce in general accounted for 11.7% of total retail sales in 2016. Mobile accounted for about 29% of that figure, or 3.4% of total sales in 2016.

These findings suggest two main avenues retailers should pursue. The first is to further improve the role of mobile as an influencer, given its paramount role in that regard. This is not limited to merely offering promos and similar incentives to visit stores, but rather to engage with customers in “real” social network activities and generating mobile first content and relationships. Another related direction is to streamline and augment the in-store experience by offering auxiliary data such as size charts, easy return processes that start on the mobile device, etc. The second avenue stems from the comparatively low mobile sales. It seems unstoppable that eventually mobile sales will overshadow all other channels. Mobile is more readily accessible and customer interface is continuously improving. Yet, it is somewhat of a conundrum that mobile sales are so relatively low and retailers would be wise to prioritize accelerating this journey.

Don’t miss Skava CEO Arish Ali speaking at Shop.org on balancing a mobile-first approach with omnichannel. 

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