Going mobile: How retailers can embrace the portable world


By Huw Owen, Head of EMEA & APJ at Couchbase.

Mobile has revolutionised the way consumers interact with retailers – today’s shoppers expect a seamless omni-channel experience across all platforms, with mobile becoming a significant piece of the puzzle. In 2017, mobile commerce made up 59% of all online spending and by 2021, it is expected to account for a staggering three-quarters of ecommerce.

In an increasingly competitive world, being able to offer a great mobile experience can make or break customer loyalty, so retailers must make sure they get the basics right. But the mobile opportunity doesn’t end there – innovative retailers are also finding that they can apply mobile tech and applications throughout their business, from improving manufacturing and the supply chain, to store management and remote working. So, whether it’s helping deliver the best customer experience or for streamlining operations, it’s clear that mobile has the potential to be a foundational component of a retailer’s digital strategy.

Back to basics

With mobile commerce expected to form a huge proportion of online sales, retailers that cannot deliver a flawless mobile offering can expect to fall behind the competition. Yet despite this, mobile retail experiences are still hampered by basic performance, scalability and security issues. Above all else, retailers must be confident that the infrastructure underpinning their mobile services can accommodate a diverse range of fast-changing data and continue to perform no matter how many customers want to use the service. This is essential in avoiding outages during busy periods such as Black Friday or the holiday shopping season.

It’s also important that retail apps can maintain at least some capabilities when connectivity is spotty or unavailable – in other words, a customer should still be able to browse an app when their train’s on-board Wi-Fi drops, or they’re in a phone signal dead-zone. Sure, they may need to wait until they have connectivity to complete their purchase, but the app’s full functionality shouldn’t be tied to an internet connection. Delivering this kind of always-on experience not only keeps customers happy, but keeps them within the retailer’s ecosystem for longer, which could ultimately lead to higher sales.

From a security standpoint, it can be difficult to manage access controls and maintain security for data that's on mobile devices, on websites or elsewhere outside the retailer’s own systems. However, with a recent string of high-profile incidents, cyber security is certainly high on the agenda. While retailers may not see themselves as big targets, customers making purchases via mobile apps must enter a range of personal and financial details – all of which are highly prized by hackers. When building and developing a mobile strategy, retailers must ensure they have enterprise-level security for the data within these mobile apps.

At the end of the day, brands like Tesco understand that they cannot compete directly with the likes of Amazon in the online shopping game alone. So, they must make the most of their position to provide a strong omni-channel offering by giving customers a seamless experience from the web, through their mobile app and in the store.

Taking things up a level

In a world where so much of our lives revolves around a mobile device, a great mobile-commerce experience now means a lot more than keeping an app secure and performing under pressure. Keeping the mobile experience fresh will pay dividends too. For example, beacon technology built into apps can provide friendly reminders to shoppers that there’s a store nearby, while built-in mobile loyalty cards will ensure that redeeming points and staying loyal is easier than ever. American Eagle’s mobile app greets customers with a welcome message when they walk into the store and offers up products and styling tips as they shop, while Louis Vuitton customers get a personalised experience with in-store touchscreen technology. This kind of personalised and memorable experience helps brands stand out from the crowd.

Retailers should be looking far and wide for inspiration on how to continually innovate their mobile offering. One industry they could draw ideas from is mobile gaming, which has seen the likes of Pokémon Go become a huge success because of the mobile customer experience. The Pokémon app has been championed for its continual improvement, with new game modes, challenges and features constantly added, to the point where the game is now almost unrecognisable to the one that launched just a couple of years ago.

A massive mobile opportunity

Retailers have a huge opportunity to utilise the power of mobile way before the point at which shoppers are filling their carts. This could start all the way back at the initial design stage: for example, with a mobile application that digitalises the early phases of prototype design. This could mean that a digital, rather than physical, prototype is sent back-and-forth between the manufacturer and the design team. Mobile could also help these workers do their jobs anywhere, from using a tablet to tweak designs on the fly while at a fashion show, to using an app to share, discuss and sign-off on final designs while on the move.

Brands like Tommy Hilfiger are already putting some of these new ideas into practice. Using mobile innovatively, the company has completely transformed the ordering process for wholesale buyers. Its ‘digital showroom’ vastly reduces the need for physical samples as it relies on hand-held devices and interactive screens, on which buyers can view the collection and create custom orders. This has had the double-benefit of reducing the sales process for each wholesaler from several days to a few hours and reducing the number of physical samples the company must produce. 

Mobile can also be implemented to enable retailers to respond more quickly to changes in supply chain, streamline processes and provide visibility into the movement of products. For example, it can be used in store or on the road to enable store managers, door-to-door sales staff or delivery drivers to see real-time stock levels and the latest relevant information about customers – allowing them to offer a superior customer service. Within stores, mobile point of sale systems also have the added benefit of keeping a store operating even if the internet connection drops – meaning that staff can continue taking orders rather than customers leaving the store empty-handed.

Embracing change

Retailers face a world of opportunity when it comes to the functionality of mobile, yet they must learn to walk before they can run. By ensuring that their core customer-facing mobile strategy is water-tight and constantly looking at ways to improve their mobile experience, they can deliver the kind of flawless customer experience that shoppers have come to expect. The most forward-thinking organisations won’t stop there though – they will also be looking to roll out their mobile strategy elsewhere across the non-customer-facing parts of their business. Whether incorporating it as part of the supply chain or using apps to improve business processes, the benefits can be significant. One thing’s for sure: mobile is here to stay, and retailers wanting to stay ahead of the competition cannot afford to stand still.

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