August 28, 2014, 3:15 PM

Understanding and serving shoppers on smartphones

Retailers need to know how smartphone users shop to take these shoppers from “I want this” to “I bought this.”

Most purchases happen in one of two ways: emotional or rational. The smartphone, by virtue of being the most pervasive web-connected device, plays a key role in impulsive, emotional purchase decisions. But at the same time, the smartphone often is the preferred tool for product research prior to making a considered and rational purchase.

In fact, 42% of smartphone users consider their mobile device the most important resource they have as they prepare to purchase, according to the 3rd Annual U.S. Mobile Path-to-Purchase Study, a June 2014 report from xAd and Telmetrics.

The typical smartphone consumer journey for an emotional purchase decision? Step 1: “That’s so cool” or “That’s so useful.” Step 2: “I want it.” Step 3: “I want it right now” or “How soon can I have it?” Step 4: “Where can I get it?”

The typical smartphone consumer journey for a rational purchase decision? Step 1: “I need that.” Step 2: “Where can I get it quickly and at the best price possible?”

While the first three steps in the emotional purchase journey and the first step in the rational purchase journey are a state of mind, the final step is a physical activity that needs to be gratified instantly. This is the critical point at which merchants need to be available to shoppers. The shopper might look for a seller in one (or a combination) of the following ways:

  1. Ask the current consumer of the product, the person using it in Step 1 for emotional purchases. To be able to be referred by the current consumer, a merchant needs to have a strong brand and a product that lives up to the brand enough to convert consumers into advocates.
  2. Search for options. To be able to show up in search results on a smartphone, a merchant needs to engage in great search engine optimization practices, which are different in many ways for smartphones than for desktops.
  3. Visit a known merchant or marketplace. To have top-of-mind awareness with shoppers, a merchant needs to invest in significant branding exercises.

Once a shopper finds the product on a smartphone, he may do one of the following:

  1. “The product is great, so is the price, I’ll buy it now.” In such cases, the only obstacle between the shopper and a purchase is the checkout process. Today, a merchant needs to ensure checkout on its online store on mobile devices is highly optimized. Page load times need to be low, navigation needs to be intuitive, design needs to be persuasive, and calls to action need to be prominent.
  2. “The product is great, but the price isn’t. I need alternatives.” This is a problem that a merchant may or may not choose to fix by reducing the price. If it chooses not to reduce the price, then it should at least try to cross-sell similar products that cost less.
  3. “The product is great, but are there better products?” Many mobile shoppers rely on customer reviews to guide their decisions. Here, merchants can present reviews in a clear and helpful fashion. If the shopper gets confused with too many choices, then the purchase decision will be postponed. So reviews need to be presented in a way (for example, allowing sort by popularity) that helps the shopper make a quick decision.
  4. “The product and price are great, but I want to buy it in a store.” This is a trait that merchants don’t have much control over. But mobile merchants can make the most out of the situation by highlighting delivery time (if it is competitive), reduced price (slashing the retail price and displaying a lower price if applicable), or offering coupons (take a hit with the first purchase but lock in shoppers for future purchases through loyalty programs).

Merchants need to do the following to exploit shoppers’ “mobile moments” (a term coined by Forrester Research Inc. to describe those momentary triggers that make shoppers crave a product intensely enough for them to make a purchase that very instant):

  1. Build a strong network of customer advocates by selling products that reflect brand positioning.
  2. Optimize sites for search engines crawling sites in the mobile realm.
  3. Ensure top-of-mind awareness by running targeted campaigns.
  4. Surprise shoppers with a fabulous mobile shopping experience (to acquire customers).
  5. Provide an addictive mobile shopping experience in a mobile app (to retain customers).
  6. Foster loyalty through constant communication.

There are 164 million U.S. consumers with smartphones today, according to research firm eMarketer Inc. Retailers must be prepared to serve these consumers anytime, anywhere.

MartMobi is a mobile commerce platform provider that targets small and mid-size retailers.

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