Growth in cross-channel sales means it’s important for retailers to cater to consumers’ in-store behavior, so as not to alienate an increasingly mobile-savvy base.
While customers are certainly using mobile devices for research, they're still purchasing goods offline. In fact, U.S. cross-channel retail sales, or transactions that "touch a digital medium but are not completed on the Internet," will hit $1.8 trillion by 2018, according to Forrester Research in its U.S. Cross-Channel Retail Sales Forecast.
That's thanks in part to consumers using digital devices to "preshop," which, per a blog post, means consumers are using their devices to search for product locations, compare prices, or check online inventory.
"Retailers would be wise to see this growing trend as the new normal; if this is the first you've heard about your customers' in-store mobile behavior, you're already late to the game," writes Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst serving e-business and channel strategy professionals at Forrester, in the post.
This sentiment, says Tessa Wegert, communications director at digital marketing agency Enlighten, is "right on the money."
"Consumers have so many tools at their disposal to help them get the best product at the best price, and researching them in-store is a natural progression - particularly when you think about this behavior in the context of increased time spent with mobile overall," Wegert says. "Companies that don't react to this trend by facilitating in-store research risk disappointing an increasingly mobile-savvy customer base - and leaving money on the table."
This trend also opens opportunities for digital marketers to use location-based marketing tactics like Wi-Fi positioning and GPS-enabled apps to deliver coupons and offers to shoppers while they're in-store.
According to Forrester, brands like Target and Walgreens have been able to successfully capitalize upon pre-shopping behaviors. Target's app, for example, allows customers to create shopping lists that map the products onto the layouts of customers' selected store locations and guide them through the aisles, Mulpuru writes.
Interestingly, however, while 68 percent of U.S. online adults tell Forrester they use their phones to access the Internet in stores and 48 percent say they use phones to browse or research products, only 24 percent say they use their phones to place actual orders for goods.
What's more, Forrester expects the majority of transactions to continue to take place in stores in part because the size of the e-commerce market is so much smaller than offline retail. In fact, Forrester says 75 percent of growth in the U.S. retail market between 2014 and 2018 will come from offline sales.
So how do brands capture their share of that growth?
Consumers tell Forrester they like to be able to see inventory or prices available at local stores and expect associates with mobile devices to be able to provide this and related information.
That means retailers should consider expanding their notion of omnichannel beyond just inventory and providing store associates with mobile-enabled points of sale and mobile messaging capabilities, Mulpuru writes.
In addition, Forrester says retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods, Macy's, and Toys"R"Us have created senior omnichannel roles to push cross-channel sales and notes "retailers that aren't already committed to similar initiatives will find themselves lagging behind."
Retailers must also align their mobile efforts with other cross-channel initiatives. One option is to look at partnerships with mobile companies like eBay, RetailMeNot, and Shopkick, as they can help drive experimentation and incremental store traffic, Forrester adds.
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In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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