SVP of Retail Strategy, National Retail Federation
There’s a lot of conversation today around online and offline retailing treating them as separate entities, when the truth is, all channels are melded together in the eyes of consumers. The increasing number of touchpoints, and the importance of each, can be daunting for retailers. However, when making strategic decisions across all these channels, digital or in-store, retailers need only be guided by one question: what will drive customer loyalty?
Rise of mobile
Mobile is a conspicuously huge opportunity to acquire, grow and maintain customer loyalty. The average consumer uses a smartphone 150 times each day; in fact, a recent UPS study projected mobile to become a $250 billion market by 2020, with U.S. mobile retail sales accounting for 49 percent of retail ecommerce sales. In another recent study, NRF and Forrester Research found that 64 percent of U.S. consumers own a smartphone, using it at home, at work and everywhere in between. For retailers to be a part of their customers’ lives, it’s clear they must be mobile.
Mobile beyond purchasing
With smartphones in hand, consumers are empowered with information wherever they are in the shopping journey. That means retailers need to view mobile as a channel that impacts their entire sales spectrum — not just purchases made on mobile devices. Consumers use mobile for purposes far beyond buying. In 2016, NRF found that 19 percent of shoppers who own smartphones used them to compare prices, 17 percent to find product information, 15 percent to find or redeem a coupon and 15 percent to read customer reviews.
Given the rise in mobile as a research platform and not just a purchasing engine, retailers should analyze how helpful their mobile sites and apps are for consumers throughout the entire buying journey and find ways to improve their functionality and accessibility. For example, companies may consider adding a mobile payment option, enhancing mobile-optimized emails or building out store locator information. Brands can also explore new ways to deliver better customer service by testing technologies like live chat and Facebook Messenger. The NRF and Forrester Research study revealed only 19 percent of retailers have delved into mobile messaging, showing an untapped opportunity to better connect with customers.
Word to the wise
While apps may seem like a no-brainer with consumers who are more willing than ever to try new technologies, they need to deliver on a specific need, not just check a box. Retailers also need to be sure they have the team and resources in place to maintain the quality of the app and test new features to stay in step with customers’ evolving needs.
The customer is still king
At the end of the day, businesses should obsess about customers and avoid getting caught up in mobile fads or omnichannel terminology. Forget about offline versus online. Instead, focus on delivering a seamless experience for your customers across all touchpoints, including mobile, to build and nurture customer loyalty through those experiences.