Opportunity knocks with the rise of commuter commerce

Smartphones: commuters are browsing and buying via their mobile devices
Smartphones: commuters are browsing and buying via their mobile devices

New research shows that commuters are filling their 'dead' time by browsing and buying while on the move, writes Hugh Boyle, global chief digital officer, Geometry Global.

Much has been speculated about a new breed of shopper emerging from a less decadent time. As price and experience polarise the shopper profile, a crude divide emerges between those looking for luxury and those looking for bargains.

Some cite the gargantuan advancements in technology as the culprit for the decline of the high street, some point to the need to encourage loyalty and repurchase. The common theme is utility: we now know that a decision to purchase can occur at any point in the shopper journey.

Stretched time

Earlier this year, the Office of National Statistics found that consumers’ stretched time and tight budgets had left eCommerce holding the largesse of purchasing power over bricks and mortar stores. This is the shopper in ‘utility mode’, one that shops along the path of least resistance, searching for together the best deals in the easiest way.

With technology so ubiquitous and assimilated into the lives of these shoppers, this newfound connectivity is exploited to make the most efficient use of ‘dead’ time and as such, even the journey to work becomes moment in which they can use digital to browse shop and spend on a number of products

New Geometry Global research, polling 2,000 UK respondents, adds a definitive underlining of this emerging consumer trend. No longer do we gaze out of the train window, aimlessly flicking through a leftover newspaper or daydream of places we’d rather be.

No doubt fuelled by the recent Wi-Fi enablement on the London Underground, 90 per cent of us are now browsing and buying on smartphones and tablets while on the move. More so, of the millions of people using public transport to get themselves to and from work, 57 per cent regularly use their commute to research products or find the best deals, whilst 31 per cent go one step further and make a purchase from the comfort of the bus stop.

Utility is not a banal ‘need’ limited to a washing detergent to get your whites white or a chocolate bar to satisfy a craving; it is a requirement to achieve a goal

Many experts may tell you this is another indication of the year of mobile and to a degree, yes, choosing to ignore mobile would be a foolish gambit. However, the channels themselves are a red herring. Rather, it’s the reason-why brands should be compelled to investigate further.

Nobody prefers to shop through a 3x5" screen while on the bus to work; they do so because this is the easiest way to get what they want. Utility is not a banal ‘need’ limited to a washing detergent to get your whites white or a chocolate bar to satisfy a craving; it is a requirement to achieve a goal, be it egotism, a bargain or a pair of tights bereft of ladders.  

Earlier this year, news emerged of Transport for London’s plans to open retail outlets on the underground. In its crudest and most tabloid-friendly form, tube stations will be populated with M&S food branches and Tesco will enjoy a semantic rationale for more Metro stores. However, at its most innovative, the extensive commercial real estate will be home to true retail solutions: virtual stores, impressive curated concessions and eCommerce locker solutions, where commuters can collect goods they’ve ordered online.

New problems

Shoppers have higher expectations now, and with them, a whole set of new problems. Technology will continue to yield innovations but unless it is applied intuitively to real shopper needs, it will likely provide more choice and fewer solutions. 

The race is on for retailers to engage consumers with content designed, developed and delivered using insight with this new context in mind.

The identification of commuter commerce highlights a significant opportunity for brands and retailers to capitalise on this trend. It provides unique insight into a previously untapped, highly valuable group of shoppers that are affluent, engaged and actively researching and spending. Understanding how to tap into these two key times of day will pay dividends for brands that successfully connect with this new shopper group. The race is on for retailers to now bridge this gap and engage consumers with content designed, developed and delivered using insight with this new context in mind.

However, the most critical lesson is that it is only made further clear that the consumer is now, and has long been, in control.  Smart, savvy, digital and demanding, the omni-channel shopper cares little for the medium.  Rather, they wish to be able to stop still at any time, any place and be able to obtain what they desire without hesitation. Whether it be physical, digital or social, the omni-channel shopper reaches out for something and it’s already there.

For brands to successfully ingratiate and integrate into consumers’ worlds, they need to find ways to identify and articulate those exact points in space and time that yield the correct answer for the modern digital shopper. With new consumer archetypes being uncovered, as marketers we need to continue to piece together the puzzle through new brand, category, consumer and shopper insights that allow us to map out the full purchase decision journey.


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