The future of retail is mobile

I was a little taken aback by the lack of mobile hype at this year’s South by South West conference in Texas. Reading the tweets from last year, it seemed that mobile was the topic on everybody’s lips. While there are numerous mobile talks and panels taking place, it almost seems like it is being downplayed. Perhaps that’s because mobile isn’t shiny anymore, it’s the norm.

There are more iPhones sold every year than babies born. We are living in a world where for a significant number of people, mobile devices are the primary device. Developing countries don’t have legacy desktop machines, they are going straight to mobile and tablet based computing.

But mobile isn’t a new channel, it’s a new layer. It’s a way of researching, navigating, communicating, interacting with real world objects and increasingly a way to buy things. And very soon, a way to pay for things.

Mobile commerce has the potential to be massive, both in terms of being able to buy things online straight from your phone and being able to buy things in store with your phone. The session I attended by eBay focused on the former.

Whilst mobile is changing the way we shop, it’s not changing what we want from a shopping experience. 79% of users want coupons and deals when shopping online. People want free stuff, and they’re willing to search out good deals. And now it’s even easier to find them. In fact it’s becoming commonplace for consumers using their phones in store to find a better deal online. Retail stores aren’t just competing with other stores on the high street, they are competing with every retailer online too.

It’s also about recognising that your online and offline shopping experiences shouldn’t be separate. They should both augment one another. When walking into a physical store, my phone should know where I am and offer me an experience specific to that location. I should be able to search in store for reviews on the product, quickly and easily. I should be able to buy the product on my phone and pick it up in store, whilst I am in the store.

Mobile allows for situational shopping, where customers can buy at the moment of inspiration, whenever and wherever that may be. This is something that will give retailers a competitive advantage in the short term, but if they don’t make the most of these opportunities they risk being left behind. Having a responsive website a few years ago helped consumers navigate a website, making the retailer more attractive. These days however, it’s expected, and sites that aren’t responsive look outdated.

A key take-out from the session was the need to make it as easy as possible for people to buy things – we don’t like waiting in a queue in real life, so don’t make us do it on our phones. Remove the littlest bit of friction to get people to act. Moving the “buy button” above the fold on the eBay mobile site increased conversions by 30%. A good litmus test was given: can you make it so easy and quick that someone can make a transaction in the time it takes for a traffic light to turn from red to green?

And because mobile isn’t a single channel, we also have to consider that customers aren’t loyal to a specific screen, so strategy should still be cross platform. Design for real consumer experiences, not by device.