Mobile technology in the retail industry is no longer just a trend. Today, as consumers increasingly turn to their smartphones for help with purchasing decisions, it’s a necessity for retailers. Mobile transcends sales avenues. It can be used in brick-and-mortar locations, for mCommerce, and in hybrid purchase situations. When optimizing mobile technology in the retail industry, companies should focus not solely on mCommerce, but also on how this technology can improve the shopping experience across all channels.
For retailers, embracing mobile technology offers challenges and opportunities. Consumers are using apps more frequently than ever before, but for retailers, launching a standalone app and gaining adoption remains a challenge. When it comes to mobile technology in the retail industry, a variety of solutions—from partnering with third-party apps to optimizing apps for curbside delivery—can help retailers capitalize on mCommerce and improve the in-store experience for consumers.
Capitalizing on the Growing Demand for Mobile Commerce
Already, nonstore sales—which include online, mobile, door-to-door, and telephone sales—are up nearly 10% over 2017. Much of this growth is attributed to the increased demand for mobile commerce. By the end of 2017, 82% of online users in the U.S. reported making a purchase via mobile at least once, with 35% of those users reporting they had only used mobile for online shopping.
Retailers that want to capitalize on mobile payment trends must be prepared to offer a robust mobile experience.
Barriers to Success in Retail Mobile Apps
Even successful brick-and-mortar retailers face challenges driving online sales, especially when competing against the industry powerhouse Amazon. A retailer that wants to leverage retail mobile app technology toward online sales may face challenges in driving traffic to their app, including:
That consumers use an estimated nine apps per day seems to indicate they should be receptive to retailer apps. However, the most frequently used apps fall into the tools and utility categories—typically native apps that come preinstalled—followed by networking, communication, and social media apps. When consumers do download mobile apps to assist them with shopping, they tend to choose those that represent multiple retailers and brands over single-brand apps.
While adoption of an app is essential, continued use of the app is critical. As technology in mobile apps advances rapidly, any app that is not frequently updated will experience diminished consumer interest.
Creating an mCommerce app is already an expensive and lengthy process. It can become even more costly when a retailer wants to add additional functions to their preexisting app, such as giving consumers the ability to pick up products at the store or participate in mobile rewards programs. The more features a mobile app contains, the more expensive it will be to develop and maintain.
Segmented operating systems:
There is a strict divide between Android and iOS users. Since every mobile platform uses a different programming language, retailers creating an app will need to either develop apps in each language—which can be costly—or pick just one of the major platforms, which will limit audience reach.
These are just a few of the challenges retailers may face when attempting to leverage technology in the mCommerce space on their own. A route to mCommerce success, with the benefit of driving new audiences, is through partnerships.
Partnering with Third-party Apps for mCommerce Sales
Some of the benefits third-party apps provide to retailers include:
Third-party apps come with existing, active audiences built in. A retailer choosing a third-party app to boost their mCommerce gets the benefit of marketing to that existing user base. Before signing up with that third-party app, the retailer should evaluate the app’s user base for demographic match.
Adding new technology to an existing app also requires extensive research, development, and testing. Third-party app providers tend to be technology forward, as their primary business is maintaining consumer use of their app. Third-party providers that take a consumer-first approach are typically more likely to adopt technologies quickly when consumer demand rises, and also to encourage continued use of the app.
Third-party app providers may also offer additional technologies and services, like beacons for in-store shopping and rewards program management for consumers who want to collect points for purchases.
Because the goal for a third-party app is typically mass adoption and retention, the app provider will make a version available for users on all operating systems. Updates for each system—Android, iOS or whatever—are also managed by the app developer, not the brand.
A third-party app can offer the mobile technology optimization a retailer needs to reach the consumers they’re after, without the expense of developing a proprietary app. Third-party apps can also be used in conjunction with an existing mCommerce based retailer app to provide additional tools and services for customers.
Using Mobile Technology in the Retail Industry to Merge Digital and Physical Spaces
Retailers that want to leverage mobile technology, both as mCommerce and within the brick-and-mortar world, must be prepared to offer features that bridge the gap between digital and physical locations. A few ways to achieve this include:
While consumers want to be able to pay for items via mobile commerce, they also want to use their apps to pay at the physical store. Companies that offer mobile payments must ensure their platform is secure and allows consumers to store and access payment information without risk.
mCommerce may be the goal of most retailer apps, but proximity marketing remains essential for retailers wishing to manage in-store sales as well. Proximity marketing connects with consumers and, for marketing purposes, can even encourage them to visit specific locations within a store.
Online order/in-store pickup:
Target’s recently-launched Drive Up option, within the delivery portion of the Target app, allows consumers to fill their shopping carts using their mobile phone and send their order to a local store. Upon arrival, the customer can have their completed order delivered to their car. Curbside pickup is an option many consumers want, as it offers the convenience of ecommerce without the delay of delivery.
In-store discovery/online ordering:
For every consumer who wants to order a product online and pick it up in the store, there’s another who wants to go to a store to view a product and then purchase it online. This is often true for large items, like furniture, where the consumer wants to be able to view the product in person before ordering it online, as returning large items can be both difficult and expensive.
In such situations, retailers should make it a goal for consumers to view their product specifications physically in the store and then order that same product online through the retailer’s platform—rather than from a competitor’s site. Making it easy to find the specific product online after viewing it in-store helps retailers ensure they can win the mCommerce sale.
Mobile rewards programs:
With a shopping app, like Shopkick, consumers can earn points for making purchases both online and in the store. Shopkick also offers consumers the ability to obtain points simply for walking into the store, driving incremental traffic through the door. The ability to collect points for both online sales and in-store interactions will drive engagement with a retailer across platforms while incentivizing purchases.
Mobile technology offers retailers an opportunity to bridge the gap between physical and digital spaces. The right apps will allow retailers to connect with consumers as they’re in the shopping aisle, ensuring they can make the most of every customer interaction.
Making the Most of Mobile Technology in the Retail Industry
Mobile technology can also include tools like GPS tracking and proximity-based marketing that are designed to reach consumers where they are. Retailers can use mobile commerce as a way to guide consumers to products and help them discover new ones both in the store and online. As mCommerce continues to grow, brands that feature the most optimized mobile technology will be the ones to succeed.
Mobile technology in the retail industry will offer an opportunity for brands to blur the line between digital and physical sales. By providing consumers options like mobile payments, rewards programs, proximity marketing, and in-store pickup, retailers will be able to improve sales and gain market share. Third-party apps can be a valuable option, providing the tools retailers need to ensure they’re making the most of their interactions with consumers, no matter where they shop.