Digital report: The mobile challenge

The mobile challenge for marketers
The mobile challenge for marketers

Mobile was slow to take off, but the proliferation of smartphones has revolutionised the customer journey and made it impossible to ignore the role of this marketing channel, writes Nicola Clark.

Marketers would be forgiven for believing it has been 'the year of the mobile' every year for the past decade. While mobile-service operators and agencies have waxed lyrical about the potential for mcommerce, in reality only a clutch of brands have paid anything but lip service to integrating mobile into their marketing strategy.

However, as smartphone penetration continues to rise and consumers use their phones to compare in-store prices, brands can no longer afford to ignore the role of mobile in marketing. With this in mind, Marketing has identified four key trends in mcommerce.

1. Consumers do not live in channels

Leading analysts believe that brands have been slow to restructure their operations according to consumers' behaviour. Consumers don't shop via channels, but instead slip seamlessly between different platforms.

Martin Gill, principal analyst at Forrester Research, claims that not a single retailer is delivering the entire customer journey. 'The issue is that, at present, brands such as PayPal know more about the customer journey than retailers,' he says.

David Duplantis, senior vice-president of global web and digital media at luxury fashion brand Coach, says consumers are becoming more confident about buying online, and 40% are browsing for a purchase they will make in-store. 'The future is about consumers making decisions about where and how they interact with you,' he adds.

As the debate moves on from clicks vs bricks to how to engage consumers across platforms, retailers are reassessing how best to connect across multiple channels.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, says that truly multichannel retailers not only engage the shopper in-store, but also offer them a lifestyle proposition. 'The fundamental question when you acquire a customer is what you can do to turn them into a loyal customer, regardless of platform,' he says.

2. Mcommerce is an additional shopping opportunity

While mcommerce remains a relatively new channel, data suggests that, for many brands, the channel is providing new shopping opportunities; for example, the peak trading time for Debenhams' mobile commerce channel is 10pm.

Gary Cole, commercial director at O2 Media, says that while ecommerce is an appointment-to-view shopping experience, mobile is far more impulsive. In short, brands have a great opportunity to connect with consumers on the go.

However, despite this opportunity, most brands invest in mobile platforms only when they reach 5% of total sales. 'Apps have given brands the opportunity to re-engineer their ecommerce system and become more intuitive about how they connect with consumers,' says Chris Bourke, managing director of mobile-marketing agency Mobext.

3. The location factor: the new rules of engagement

Experts argue that brands need to learn a completely new skill set when it comes to connecting with consumers through their new 'significant other' - the smartphone.

Cole says that for many consumers, their mobile phone - or at least the contacts within it - is the most important thing in their lives. 'Our insight tells us that 90% of consumers have their mobile phone to hand while they are watching TV,' he says.

Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate, says brands need to ensure that their CRM systems are structured around consumers on an individual level, rather than sending generic messages. 'Brands need to be careful, as bad customer service and inappropriate messaging will lead to consumers boycotting products,' he adds.

Ultimately, the rules of engagement on mobile platforms are different, as a consumer's relationship with their phone is more personalised than with a medium such as TV.

Andy Sandoz, creative partner and innovation director at digital agency Work Club, argues that it is in the best interests of brands to use 'exceptional politeness' when reaching out to consumers via their phones. 'It is a user-centric experience, rather than a brand-centric one,' he says. 'You might get rapped by the ASA for a misleading TV ad, but when it comes to mobile, your consumer will simply turn off altogether.'

While the opportunity for location-based targeting is substantial, brands need to operate with exceptional care here.

4. Restructuring for 'agile commerce'

In the age of mobile commerce, brands should work backward from the consumer to establish how to best reach them across multiple platforms. 'The key is to ensure that the customer is at the heart of commerce, and reappraise how they interact with you at each stage of their journey,' says Lowe.

In practice, meeting this challenge is often a slow, labour-intensive process for brands. Gill advocates small, agile cross-functional teams that can work to bring different channel strands together. In reality, this is tough in often ego-driven businesses. However, the success of retailers such as French Connection, Argos and B&Q suggests that restructuring to break down channel silos is key to establishing a cross-platform retail offering. In the case of B&Q, this has meant rewarding store managers for web collections at their stores, a relatively simple mechanic that ensures channels are not competing.

However, one leading analyst claims many of Britain's biggest brands are not seeing the growth of agile commerce as a reason to break down barriers. Instead, they are building new ones. 'Marketing is still a conservative business driven by short-term sales,' he contends. 'Simply creating standalone head of mobile positions is a disaster.'

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH THE MOBILE CONSUMER

Sally's shopping trip starts before she leaves home

- She has been inspired by some of the ideas her friends have.

- Different looks can be compared by trying on virtual outfits.

- She reserves a garment from the new winter line that she knows will sell out quickly.

Sally's mobile is the hub of her in-store interactions ...

- Her mobile lets brands identify her and her interactions with products and in-store technology.

- She can speak to virtual sales advisers or human advisers in other locations.

- Finally, Sally uses her mobile to pay for the clothes she wants to buy now.

... and it gives her reach beyond the store

- It allows her to reach out to friends or trusted shoppers to get advice.

- She saves products she likes to a single wish list, so that she can buy them later.

- She uses her mobile to compare one pair of jeans with other brands in other stores.

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