Retailers putting a priority on mobile retail experiences

If you were somehow able to travel in time from 1950 to 2015 and walk around any American city, you would likely have a lot of questions: why does everybody walk around, zombie-like, never making eye contact? Why does everybody appear to be obsessed with exercising their thumbs on little hand-held boxes? What’s this “Google” thing everybody talks about? And what for the love of Pete is “Facebook?”

While the cultural canaries-in-a-coalmine have been tweeting (couldn’t resist that one) for years that our society is on the verge of sliding off the proverbial mountain as Google makes us stupid, smartphones have been quietly reorganizing our lives. That’s the world in which we live, and according to many who study such things, it’s not going away any time soon – if at all.

The change is perhaps no more profound than in the marketplace. A recent study by the National Retail Federation (NRF) caught my eye recently, titled (innocuously enough): “Mobile Still Tops Retailers’ Priority Lists, According to Shop.org/Forrester State of Retailing Online Report.” (You can read the entire study at NRF.com.)

As those who own and operate retail commerce are famous for keeping ahead of trends, we should probably pay attention to such findings; mobile shopping has profoundly changed the way we shop, and promises a future that makes today’s hectic environment seem bucolic by contrast. As the “Internet of Things” takes shape, promising to bring connect everything from the dishwasher to the lawn mower, technology is only going to get more pervasive.

One big observation from the study is in how e-commerce has already changed the marketplace. Smartphone sales (as a percentage of online sales) grew from 8 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2014, an increase of 50 percent.

“Consumers are flocking to retailers’ mobile sites at a faster pace and with more interaction than ever before, so naturally they expect retailers to offer fast, well-designed mobile services that meet their needs,” said NRF Senior Vice President and Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “With that in mind and with several years of mobile commerce now under the industry’s belt, retailers feel confident in their mobile investments. For retailers – when it comes to mobile strategies, small but continuous incremental changes really do go a long way to keep their savvy customers happy.”

If you asked them to tell you what’s at the top of their priority lists, most retailers would put mobile commerce at the top of the list. Nearly six in 10 (58 percent) consider it the most important priority for the nation’s retailers. That’s a five-point uptick from the year before.

But, while they understand the importance of keeping their toe in the digital ocean and realize consumers are saying, “ready or not, here I come”, most aren’t – yet, anyway – putting their money where their mouth is. Thirty-two percent of retailers surveyed reported spending less than $100,000 on their smartphone development efforts in 2014. However, eight in 10 retailers plan to increase their mobile budgets by at least 20 percent in 2015.

And while the smart money five years ago would have been to bet on apps, it could be that the rush of app development may have stalled in favor of mobile-optimized websites. “More than half (56%) of retailers surveyed say that apps are not a key component of their mobile marketing strategy, and an even greater percentage agree apps are not critical to their employee strategy either,” noted an NRF release. Instead, they are looking to optimize their existing websites to be able to “sniff” when a user is on a laptop, PC, smartphone, tablet or other device, and customize the content appropriately.

From a consumer standpoint, all of this is probably good news. Since we all have these devices anyway, having retailers to customize the experience will create a better shopping experience. And given the competitive nature of American commerce, they’ll be looking for ways to make us consumers happy as we navigate the strange, new world in which we find ourselves.

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