Special Report: Meeting the needs of the mobile shopper

Consumers shop differently on mobile devices than on computers, and retailers that get the difference will win their loyalty.


Consumers increasingly are attached to their mobile devices. They take their smartphones everywhere, and often curl up in the evening with a tablet computer on the couch or even in bed. No longer bound to their computer, whether at work or home, they can shop anywhere and at anytime. This freedom to carry the web with them in their pocket or purse is leading consumers to shop in entirely new ways, which means retailers have to understand, and adapt to, mobile behavior.

Already mobile devices account for a significant percentage of traffic to retail sites. This holiday season IBM Corp. predicts mobile devices will account for more than 20% of web traffic, up from about 11% of online holiday traffic just two years ago. That is a good indication of mobile's growing influence in retail.

Retailers without a mobile presence increasingly are missing out on the chance to influence and sell to many web shoppers, including a good chunk of the most affluent consumers. But retail success in m-commerce requires more than just launching a mobile web store or app. It requires a keen understanding of why consumers shop using mobile devices and their expectations of what they will find when they use a mobile device to research products and make a purchase.

"Most mobile users do not browse the web, but go online in search of a specific item of information, and retailers should design their mobile strategy accordingly," says Tony Svanascini, CEO of web site design firm Americaneagle.com. "Retailers should be designing their mobile sites to be responsive to the needs of the customer and tailored to the characteristics of all mobile devices in use."

Site versus app

For retailers that have made the decision to establish a mobile presence, one of the first questions is whether to build a mobile web site, develop an app or both. "The mobile web is great for customer acquisition while the app world is great for customer retention," says Eric Feinberg, senior director, mobile, for ForeSee, a customer experience analytics company. "Every retailer needs a mobile web site. This allows for product discovery in a search-centric world. Apps then deliver on the promise of a great mobile customer experience for retailers to share unique experiences with their more brand-loyal audience."

Apps can provide mobile shoppers with quick access to basic information they need at the beginning of, or during, a shopping excursion. That includes locating the nearest retail store or calling up an in-store map to locate the aisle containing the product a consumer is looking for.

Retailers can also use apps to push coupons to mobile shoppers when they are in a store. "Walgreens and Home Depot are doing this when shoppers have activated their app in a store to promote certain products or incentives based on their location in the store," says Svanascini. "While apps can make it easier to interface with a customer, because they can be launched by touching the screen, they have to offer features consumers are going to use regularly; otherwise the app just sits on the mobile device."

Mobile is different

What's true for apps is also true for mobile sites: simply building a mobile site does not mean consumers will flock to it. "Great customer experience still reigns supreme," says Feinberg. "Price is not the primary driver of how satisfied someone is with a mobile experience—navigation and merchandising are. Retailers must continue to keep in mind the role of mobile sites and apps as an influencer of what is next. What is mobile's contribution to store purchases or web purchases? That contribution is knowable, but often goes unmeasured because it is perceived as difficult to measure."

The best way to know what mobile shoppers want is to ask them. And the best time to ask them is when they are engaging with the mobile site or app. Doing so can provide a retailer with valuable insight into how to gauge success of a mobile site or app and then design and enhance the mobile site or app to meet the needs of visitors.

"Achieving this involves reaching out to mobile shoppers while they are in the retailer's store or at home preparing for a visit and then shortly after those experiences by sending an e-mail or SMS text message to provide a forum for feedback," says Feinberg.

ForeSee provides analytics services and technology that measure how the user experience impacts what customers intend to do as a result of a visit to a mobile site or app, in addition to measuring satisfaction across web sites, retail stores and contact centers. ForeSee's predictive customer satisfaction scores show retailers which changes will have the greatest impact on future loyalty and purchase intent so retailers can prioritize improvements to their sales channels.

Brands matter

Some of the questions retailers can ask mobile shoppers include the purpose of the visit, whether the web site's navigation paths got them to where they wanted to go quickly, what kind of mobile device they used, whether the web site delivered the kind of experience they expected on that device and how their expectations and wants differ on a mobile device compared to a computer.

"If a large percentage of mobile shoppers say they come to the site to locate the nearest store or find out how to contact customer service, make those features more prominent," says Svanascini. "Retailers should also ask why a consumer left a certain page to determine if it needs further optimization."

Asking the type of mobile device the shopper uses can help retailers track and parse the behavioral differences between shoppers using different types of smartphones and those using tablet computers. "People use tablets and smartphones differently and those differences extend to the device's brand," says Svanascini. "Android users have different expectations for the online experience than iPhone users and retailers should be making note of those differences when it comes to the mobile experience."

In addition to site design and development, Americaneagle.com provides site hosting, content management, search engine marketing, multimedia, streaming audio and video services.

Let them know

When it comes to measuring the success of a mobile site or app, traditional metrics such as conversion rates provide only a fraction of the information needed. One of the newer techniques on the mobile measurement scene is leveraging native technologies like local push notifications. Once a shopper opens the retailer's app the retailer can send her messages pertinent to her location, which the retailer can determine via the global positioning system technology embedded in the device. A shopper in a retailer's store or nearby can receive discount coupons, notices of sales or other incentives to make a purchase.

"Push notifications are permission-based so they are a great way to market to consumers that have opted in to receive these messages," explains Feinberg. "Retailers are focused on assessing mobile's success and mobile's contribution to the overall business. They want to know what shoppers think of their mobile site, and traditional metrics such as traffic and conversion rates simply fall short in mobile because they don't tell the whole story."

Mobile SEO

Only a retailer's most loyal fans are likely to have its app on their mobile device, but search engine marketing is one of the most effective ways to attract mobile shoppers who are not already loyal customers. One of the pitfalls of mobile paid search that retailers need to be aware of, however, is that the keywords that convert well when consumers are shopping on a computer are not necessarily the ones that will be most relevant to mobile shoppers.

The small keyboards on smartphones means it takes longer to enter a search term on a mobile device than on a PC. That makes it important for retailers placing paid search ads to focus their bidding on mobile-friendly keywords. Mobile shoppers tend to enter one- or two-word search queries instead of lengthy search strings, and those should be the terms retail marketers prioritize.

One way retailers can discover which keywords shoppers search for most on mobile devices is to analyze by keyword how paid search ads perform on various kinds of mobile devices versus their ROI on the PC web.

"Google allows retailers to purchase keywords for mobile only, which helps increase the performance of those words because they are not included in searches conducted from desktops," says Svanascini. "Comparing keyword performance between mobile and desktops can help eliminate a lot of underperforming keywords in both channels."

Lesson No. 1

With mobile commerce evolving at a breakneck pace, retailers looking to take advantage of the mobile opportunity need to keep one thing in mind: Mobile users are task-oriented. And the task at hand may not be to buy immediately. It is more likely the shopper is comparing prices, reading reviews, finding a store, checking in-store inventory or finding out how late a local merchant is open.

In other words, mobile shoppers are typically looking for information that ultimately will help them make purchases in other sales channels. By keeping this in mind, retailers will deliver the type of content and experience mobile users want and that will keep them coming back.

"The number one thing retailers need to accept about the mobile channel is that it influences future consumer behavior in another channel like web or store," says Feinberg. "Once retailers submit to that premise they will be able to deliver mobile experiences that satisfy the unique needs of their mobile shoppers."


Americaneagle.com Inc., ForeSee, mobile commerce, mobile consumers, October 2012 Magazine, October 2012 Mobile Supplement, smartphones, tablets