The role that mobile devices play in the shopping process cannot be narrowed down to an overall, easily identified function.
Think that all mobile shoppers are in the final stage of the buying-decision process? Think again. The reality is that the "typical" mobile shopper doesn't exist. In fact, mobile shoppers - smartphone users, in particular - utilize their devices increasingly throughout their shopping experiences, entering and exiting the purchase process at various points. Furthermore, the ways in which mobile shoppers can actually use their phones during the shopping process are essentially limitless. The businesses that target their messages/promotions and manage to engage shoppers across this usage continuum will generate more revenue than businesses that treat mobile simply as a digital, "point-of-sale" medium.
The Role of Mobile in the Shopping Process
The bottom line: The role that mobile devices play in the shopping process cannot be narrowed down to an overall, easily identified function, especially when talking about consumers who use mobile devices for shopping purposes. Take the recent holiday-shopping season, for example. According to a study by GfK Roper, smartphone owners not only used their devices to find stores and to make purchases, but also for everything in between, from comparison pricing and inventory checking to sharing store and purchase experiences on social sites (to name a few).
Easier to pinpoint are the changing roles that mobile devices serve, as searchers shift to shoppers and, ultimately, buyers. For example, how consumers use their mobile devices before they get to your store is quite different than how they use them once inside or once they leave.
Before the Store Visit
The primary goals of a mobile searcher are to either find a business with a needed product/service or to find a business' address, according to my company's Local Search Usage Study, conducted by comScore. So, clearly, the first step to get such a searcher into your store is to ensure that you are found. Hopefully, you have already tested mobile search, SMS, and directory campaigns to find the best way of achieving this for your business. But consider other avenues that mobile searchers are using to find local business information. Social networking sites have mobile platforms for all major device types, as do consumer review sites like Yelp and Citysearch (ratings and reviews are more important to mobile searchers than any other type of searcher, with the exception of social networkers).
In addition to how mobile searchers are finding your business, consider what additional information they may be seeking before deciding to visit your store. For instance, a September 2010 study by Sterling Commerce shows that checking product availability is the foremost use of mobile phones by U.S. Internet users during the shopping process. If you are a retailer and your mobile website does not offer this functionality, you may have just lost a sale - not to mention that if you do not have a mobile-friendly website, then your marketing goal of driving mobile-site traffic could be completely lost.
During the Store Visit
You got the mobile shopper in your store, now what? Consider arming consumers with the mobile technology they demand. QR codes allow mobile shoppers to gain product knowledge or to obtain special in-store discounts simply by scanning. Mobile applications, although not limited to the "store visit" shopping phase, can encourage shoppers to interact with your business or brand while in your store. According to Harris Interactive's EffectiveUI Survey (November 2010), more than three-quarters of mobile app users feel that companies should have mobile applications to simplify interaction.
If you are going to engage in-store mobile shoppers with exclusive discounts and promotions, make sure that such offers are relevant to your brand. Most importantly, your in-store sales force, from frontline to behind-the-scenes employees, must be made fully aware of any promotions. Offering a free dessert through a Foursquare promotion will mean nothing if your waitstaff does not know about the deal. Keep in mind that the kind of mobile shopper who is privy to offer redemption via Foursquare is also the type of consumer who is prone to share experiences on social networks and review sites.
After the Store Visit
The mobile experience certainly does not end with the store visit. Whether the in-store experience was good or bad, it is imperative that you monitor what mobile shoppers are sharing about those experiences on social-networking and consumer-review sites and apps. The line between mobile and social has become very blurred, and the distinction will continue to be clouded moving forward.
Think about rewarding your current customers with loyalty programs for mobile. More than one-third of mobile phone owners in the U.S. are interested in such programs from trusted brands; according to Hipcricket's 2010 Mobile Response Survey, conducted by Zoomerang, this interest is greater when loyalty programs can be joined from brand pages on social networking apps. Developing a loyalty program will not only keep current customers coming back, but it will also provide you with an easy way of gauging what is and isn't working for your mobile campaigns.
The question being asked by many advertisers is, "Is this the right time to get started in mobile?" Simply put, yes (the key reasons being search and shopping volumes are quickly growing, and those types of consumers are buyers). According to the Local Search Usage Study, 70 percent of mobile users follow up their searches with actual purchases.
That means advertisers who are able to identify when and how to engage mobile searchers and shoppers will get a leg up in the mobile world. Get started, and, as always, measure your results, because if you can measure it, then you can optimize it.
This column was originally published in SES Magazine, March 2011.
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Gregg Stewart is founder and president of 3rd Act Marketing, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy, specializing in digital solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 3rd Act supports businesses and agencies of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. With more than 20 years experience, Stewart applies his successful tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital and mobile solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his ClickZ columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive. In 2013, Stewart was recognized with the ClickZ Hall of Fame award.
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