Mobile is the key to holiday success

Retail success for the 2016 holiday season will be founded in mature, mobile-marketing programs and advanced mobile technologies.

The most inescapable buzzword (or term) of 2016 has easily been ‘mobile first’—a desire to shift focus from a desktop-dominated mindset to a mobile-mindset as customers overcome the conversion barrier and as traffic skyrockets.

While many marketers may roll their eyes as their CMO repeatedly expounds on the phrase ‘mobile first,’ the reality is that the industry has truly reached a watershed moment in which placing mobile on the back-burner could have extensively negative impacts.

In fact, mobile’s ubiquity across channels suggests that it could have just as much impact on stores as it could on ecommerce since showrooming is so widespread.

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Here are some statistics showing mobile’s impact across mediums:

  • Mobile-only internet users have surpassed desktop-only internet users (Comscore).
  • More than 50% of all searches originate from mobile (DMA).
  • 69% of emails are opened on mobile devices (Branch).

Yet even with the metrics to prove mobile’s ascension, the channel remains elusive, or even secondary, to many marketers.

Mobile’s pervasive impact to an omnichannel strategy is also apparent, but a path to success remains somewhat murky to cross-channel strategists with issues ranging from attribution to cross-channel creative.

Naturally many brands have taken divergent paths over the past two years.

Some have focused resources on refining the customer experience, others have shifted to app development in place of mobile web, and a minority of brands has even staked its claim on virtual reality as the next step in mobile’s future.

Brands placed their bets on mobile over the past couple of years and each strategy’s maturity converges on holiday 2016. This year, marketers will find out which brands truly took a mobile-first approach—investing wisely based on customer forecasting and available technologies.

Here are seven areas that will dictate mobile success for holiday 2016:

1. Omnichannel services

Omnichannel has more acronyms than a condescending developer can hurl at you, but BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store), RIS (reserve in-store), and BISBO (buy in-store, buy online) will all be important services this holiday.

More importantly, mobile will have a major impact as the main channel for those services as customers urgently move across locations looking for the perfect gift at the right price.

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Retailers that can offer those services through the holiday season will have a major advantage over competitors.

Those that have a user-friendly mobile experience will fare even better.

2. Load time  

53% of mobile sites are abandoned if the page takes longer than three seconds to load according to Google.

Most sites take longer, especially during the holidays, with increased traffic and server calls. Comp-shopping customers aren’t going to wait around for sites to load, they’re going to move onto the next competitor.

Early adopters of Google’s AMP landing pages could see great returns on their early investment into lightning-fast mobile pages.

3. Checkout experience 

Mobile conversion is up across retail, but it’s still a major challenge for consumers. Privacy concerns and usability are major barriers. Amazon is still the king of no-hassle mobile checkout, but it’s been a long road for the rest of the industry.

Urgency and timeliness are paramount during the holidays—so checkout could make-or-break retailers.

4. Native app or mobile web

App or web will be one of the defining moments of 2016. Some brands invested heavily in apps that have a high barrier to entry.

Two-thirds of consumers prefer mobile web over downloading an app according to KissMetrics, but app users are often more engaged with higher return frequency.

Will app downloads see an increase prior to the coming season? Or will consumers stick with mobile sites for their holiday shopping?

5. Personalization and universal ID  

Universal ID is notoriously hard to produce, specifically on mobile, since cookies don’t play a role. Brands with solid mobile and cross-channel attribution models will be able to display contextual, personalized experiences for consumers during the most valuable time of the year.

6. Unified storefront

Digital and physical stores no longer have a demarcation thanks to mobile showrooming.

While the behavior is hard to quantify, showrooming has proven to be popular for consumers. According to Multichannel Merchant, more than half of consumers have used a mobile device to research a product while in a store.

Brands that invested in beacon technology have the benefit of geo-locating offers to increase store traffic and conversion.

7. Virtual reality  

There are many unknowns within the VR space. How quickly will consumers adapt to the new medium? How price-sensitive are consumers to the technology? Will it be an effective marketing tool to bring product to life? There are also some questions marketers will need to answer.

There are two opposing strategies marketers can take when harnessing virtual reality.

The first strategy is to drive consumers to stores to participate in a VR experience. The idea is to increase store traffic—which is consistently down—through a virtual experience consumers can only utilize in stores. Ideally it should enhance the shopping experience rather than recreate it.

The other school of thought is to bring the store to the consumer. Rather than try to force consumers to shop in a medium that’s declining in popularity, this approach brings the benefits of an in-store experience to the digital medium, which marketers have been racking their brains over since ecommerce took shape.

VR has the best chance to bring store experiences to life.

Mobile causes much more fragmentation for marketers across retail, as compared with the homogenous, follow-the-leader approach usually associated with digital.

Typically, digital pioneers have little time before every brand catches up, but mobile is different. There are a multitude of divergent strategies converging on this holiday season that will show large disparities across retailers that ultimately will impact their revenue generation.

As always, consumers will be the judge of which retailers anticipated the marketplace best.

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