Why Retailers Need to Invest More in the Mobile Experience

Smartphones and tablets account for an increasing share of device usage. The proportion of Americans using at least one of these devices now exceeds the proportion using desktop or laptop computers. As people spend more time on mobile devices, retailers will want to enhance their mobile functionalities in order to maintain or augment their piece of the growing pie.

Consumers are also wielding a greater number of devices from day to day. Since the launch of modern tablets a decade ago, to more-recently-developed smart watches and pending AR glasses, connected devices are growing increasingly diverse.

As their range expands, these devices can offer more pathways for retailers to connect with consumers. In a cutthroat retail environment where products are always available from many sources, including some of the world’s largest companies such as Amazon or Walmart, businesses must make the most of their mobile user interfaces, experiences, and mobile-optimized content. They should craft fully engaging and useful customer experiences tailored for smaller screens and the features they allow.

Mobile device interfaces offer businesses a significant opportunity to showcase product and company information, as well as use cases for those products. Beyond displaying information, retailers can also directly tend to inquiries. Demonstrating the value of this ability, technology executive Mark Hurd explains, “Consumers now expect immediate gratification. They expect immediate answers to the questions they have… the ability to serve up content, serve up the desired capability, now becomes not just a nice-to-have but a must-have if you’re going to compete in the next generation.” In addition to providing rapid information regarding products or services, businesses can offer strategic or entertaining content, to nudge consumers into viewing their product or brand in a preferable light.

Businesses can offer strategic or entertaining content, to nudge consumers into viewing their product or brand in a preferable light.

With all of this said, mobile conversion rates actually show evidence of lagging behind those of traditional computers. The divergence of growth rates and conversion rates may indicate further opportunity for improvement in mobile execution, and even if the end purchase isn’t to be made on a mobile device, mobile experiences feed into the eventual purchases to be made on desktops. Effective mobile strategies therefore create value and offer a return on their investment, even if this return isn’t clearly seen in conversion rates alone. Whether the intent is to drive end purchase or more subtly influence consumers elsewhere in the sales funnel, thoughtful investments in mobile experiences can help retailers capitalize on long-term trends in user numbers.

Leverage mobile apps and sites

Time, thought, and monetary investment can go a long way toward creating mobile experiences that produce returns.

Since mobile users may be enticed to download a free app or visit a website on their mobile devices, strategic analyses regarding the potential roles of both options allow retailers to more fully assess their opportunities. Gauging device usage and behavior across customer demographics and projecting future cohorts with which to engage serves as a critical first step towards assessing the customer landscape. Digging into the customer journey to discover how it intersects with features and content on mobile apps or sites provides retailers with insights into opportunities to create enjoyable encounters. This also provides visibility into points of friction, which can then be minimized or eliminated to produce better experiences as well. These insights can help influence UI and UX specifications.

Chad Udell of Float Learning urges businesses to, “convert their best existing content into a mobile, usable, fresh user experience – this means rethinking what is the best and most relevant information. It’s a technology and also a design issue.” Dedicating effort to this analysis helps retailers optimize mobile designs, as well as strategize crossover or independence in content and features between apps and mobile websites. They may work in tandem, serve as duplicates to cover the basises, or offer unique experiences. Assessing these aspects serves as an upfront investment that can drive future returns in the form of greater sales and customer satisfaction.

Incorporate new device capabilities

Device makers continually roll out new capabilities. More advanced processors, improved cameras, and 3D depth sensors augment a retailer’s toolset, giving them more leverage when seeking to produce positive customer experiences. These advances join accelerometers, biometric sensors, and geolocation capabilities, among others, as hardware-based gatekeepers between consumers and retailers. Mobile-first experiences, especially those offered in native mobile applications, can take full advantage of these tools.

Greater processing power and faster connectivity, and their impacts on machine learning, have enabled devices to harness more capable chatbots, which allow businesses to more readily accommodate consumer inquiries. Cameras and depth sensors add to the mix, combining with processing power, to enable augmented reality and other advanced interactive mobile experiences. Retailers may consider incorporating AR experiences into their mobile app. From car interiors to clothing and home furnishings, the technology can provide customers with the ability to visualize products in real-world situations and environments.

AR can also give customers the ability to seamlessly retrieve product information while in physical stores — or wherever they happen to see an interesting item. If a retailer’s app allows, locating the item in a phone’s viewfinder could activate machine learning-backed object recognition to pull up useful and associated information on the item. When provided with related information on real-world items, customers may not find themselves tasked with manually searching and browsing the web, which will keep them inside a retailer’s controlled digital environment and more engaged with its products. Leveraging AR capabilities could also direct users to valuable online resources effortlessly, if so desired by UX architects.

Investment in AR-enabled features can add onto the value already created by other app functions, including preference-based recommendation engines, customer rewards tracking, and real-time notifications of discounts or specials. Thomas Husson, Vice President at Forrester Research, tells us, “Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub, but also the bridge to the physical world. That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations — it will transform your entire business.” Integrating AR into the mobile experience is a direct example of bridging the digital and physical worlds to create intuitive user experiences.

Connect with IoT technologies

Many brick and mortar retailers already utilize Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to streamline their store operations. With appropriate time, thought, and investment, mobile experiences can take advantage of IoT capabilities as well. RFID-tagging inventory plays a formidable role in retail’s IoT strategy, providing for data collection, improving accuracy, and enhancing a business’ overall ability to project resource demands based on its inventory movements. Aspects of data generated by RFID tags can flow into mobile experiences, offering users an accurate understanding of real-time product availability, locations of items in stores, and expected restockings based on the item’s position in the supply chain.

IA can offer users an accurate understanding of real-time product availability, locations of items in stores, and expected restockings based on the item’s position in the supply chain.

Using mobile devices for authentication allows point of sale (POS) technology to empower customers with automated self-checkout. This feature of the retail experience can be used in several ways. When browsing in a store, customers may hold their phone up to an item to scan it and execute the purchase on-the-spot by utilizing object recognition capabilities. A tag on the item can also trigger the recognition, communicate purchase intent to the mobile application or website, and allow the consumer to execute the purchase. Retailers can also implement POS hardware near the store’s entrance to commit purchases by sensing the passing by of item-specific RFID tags, which then connect to the visitor’s mobile device. In each case, mobile integration can play an important role in reducing customer-facing friction and transaction costs. By investing in these areas, in-store experiences are augmented with an improved provision of information, the reduction or disappearance of lines, and the enablement of easier purchasing methods.

Producing data to further augment the customer experience

Mobile strategies also offer returns in the form of voluminous and powerful data. When customers view sites through mobile devices, retailers can analyze such interactions, just as they would for desktop users. In this sense, mobile applications offer an additional source from which to gauge aspects of the customer journey, though mobile may provide data on additional (and literal) touch-points. Retailers may use UI-based engagement metrics, time spent on certain screens, or user navigation flows, among others. A host of analytics platforms already offer comprehensive capabilities to produce actionable insights, but customized mobile applications can also give retailers the power to quantify factors previously omitted by those out-of-the-box solutions.

The production and analysis of data enables businesses to iteratively improve their product offerings, marketing techniques, and customer experience features. As mobile usage continues to grow and new devices penetrate the market, the ability to capture and leverage user data to provide great user experiences will improve as well. Retailers that strategically invest in these technologies should find additional returns on their investment.  

 

Author : Brian Thomas