Pulling Out All the Stops:

Retailers Follow Customers into the Mobile World

Jennifer Ramstrom

With an estimated 80% of online adults using smartphones and 84% carrying them into stores, it’s not surprising that brick-and mortar retailers are adopting new ways to capitalize on the trend. Even if customers don’t make a smartphone purchase, the browsing they do on their phones often leads to a sale. Here’s a look at how today’s shoppers are using their smartphones and what savvy retailers are doing to accommodate them.

Shoppers and Mobile Phones

Though 20% of online purchases are completed on smartphones, the majority (70%) is done on desktops, with another 10% on tablets. Shoppers tend to avoid buying big-ticket items with their phones, preferring desktop sites where they can enlarge photos and more easily read reviews and product descriptions.

But just because customers aren’t buying on their phones doesn’t mean they aren’t using them for shopping. A Deliotte survey found that 69% of consumers go “webrooming” – browsing online, either on a desktop or mobile site, and later purchasing in a store. The trend also works the other way: 52% of buyers visit a store to check out the merchandise in person, then go online to find the best price and buy.

Nearly 40% of desktop transactions in the fourth quarter of 2015 took place after a customer visited the retailer’s mobile app, according to digital advertising firm Criteo. So how are shoppers using their smartphones? Sixty percent use their device to find store locations, 53% look up or compare prices, 50% browse, and 46% read reviews. But if given the opportunity, they can do a lot more.

What Savvy Retailers Are Doing

Some retailers use their mobile apps to send customers discount coupon codes. Target, for example, sends discounts to customers who open the app in its stores. Beauty and cosmetics retailer Sephora gives customers reward points that can accumulate to provide free in-app purchases.

Customers who register online provide a treasure trove of data that enables retailers to send them personalized messages and deals. Nordstrom and Walmart allow customers to check into stores through their mobile apps, giving sales clerks access to their purchase history.

Stores can also benefit from giving sales associates tablets, which not only let them see customers’ purchase history, but can check for other sizes or colors if they swipe RFID tags attached to merchandise. Personal shoppers can accompany buyers to different departments and use a tablet to accept credit card payments anywhere.

Some retailers send content marketing information published in other channels to their mobile apps to stimulate purchases. Others use demographic or weather information to target specific customers. eBay, for example, promotes generators to customers in areas expecting a storm.

It’s Not Enough

Despite the strides of some retailers, stores in general aren’t keeping up with customer demand for mobile services. A recent Accenture survey found that 47% of shoppers want more retail services through mobile devices, but most retailers aren’t equipped to help them.

32% of shoppers want to scan products with their phones, but just 17% of retailers make that possible. 42% would like to receive credit for coupons and discounts on their phones, but only 16% of retailers can accommodate them. Just 58% of retail apps allow purchases, and only 7% of retailers are able to send customers real time promotions.

Whether they’re used for purchases, discounts, or browsing, mobile devices have become an essential part of the retail ecosystem. Stores that figure out how to use them to their advantage have ample ways to get a leg up on the competition.