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Addressing the mobile piece of the multichannel retailing puzzle

By Dan Ledger

Retailers are rushing to create seamless customer experiences across virtual and physical channels. Multichannel retailing is the Holy Grail of commerce these days and for good reason.

According to Christine Bardwell of IDC, multichannel shoppers spend 3.5 percent more than their less connected peers, purchase across more categories, shop more frequently, and when they visit stores, 40 percent of them use their smartphones to interact with brands.

While the promise of multichannel retailing may seem evident, few retailers know how to do it right, especially when it comes to incorporating mobile into the shopping experience. In fact, only 14 percent of consumers who installed a mobile shopping application said it helped them buy something.

Let us put together the mobile pieces of the multichannel puzzle and identify actionable ways to create meaningful experiences for the mobile shopper.

Optimize experience for device and user context
Smartphones, tablets and PCs are different tools that we use for different jobs in different contexts.

When thinking about the shopping experience across each of these devices, we need to be mindful both of the inherent limitations of these devices, and the context in which people typically find themselves using them.

Rich catalog experiences suit tablet shoppers
A tablet, for example, is a wonderful device to explore and discover new products while relaxing on the couch on a Sunday afternoon without any time constraints. It is a natural evolution from the PC and offers some richer possibilities from a user experience perspective.

With their incredibly rich page layouts, and almost no constraint for presentation, tablets allow shoppers to get closer to products, see them better, watch demos, and easily access product reviews.

Recent research from Sucharita Mulpuru at Forrester Research indicates that tablets are quickly becoming the shopping device of choice for Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers.

More than 70 percent of these demographics would buy or have bought from a retail Web site using a tablet, and more than two-thirds tend to use tablets more than smartphones for shopping-related activities.

Tablets can and should offer rich, visual, discovery-oriented experiences.

There is also a tremendous amount of possibility to also offer a highly personalized shopping experiences, showcasing preferred products along preferred colors and models, and reviews from shoppers’ own personal connections.

The new Steve Madden iCatalog gets you up close and personal with footwear, while its iPhone app intelligently routes you to its nearest store.

Smartphone shopping should be quick and relatively simple
A smartphone shopping experience, on the other hand, works very well when it is designed for short increments of free time that we have during our day.

With its small screen size, a smartphone simply cannot match the richness of tablet shopping, nor should it try. It offers its own set of unique channel possibilities. Let me offer up two very different ones:

? First, a good smartphone shopping experience might be streamlined for simple, intent-based shopping.

Consider Amazon on mobile. You are out and about and you realize you need paper towels. You pull out your smartphone, do a quick search, add the Bounty to your cart, and have it shipped for next day delivery.

What matters here is user-friendly search, along with the ability to zoom, pinch and swipe easily.

? A different, but equally viable smartphone shopping experience is a highly curated one. This means offering only a subset of popular products.

Pared-down selections are easily digestible for shoppers on the go, with limited time on their hands. The Rue-la-la iPhone app offers clues on how to de-clutter the shopping experience by offering a handful of catalogs with a handful of products at a given time.

The bottom line: Make it easy for your shoppers to find something they need – or love – quickly, and watch both in-store and online revenues grow.

Now imagine even greater value creation possibilities
Mobile devices open the door for retailers to create truly unique and innovative shopping experiences. Here is some food for thought.

Use mobile to infuse fun and excitement into shopping
Going back to the Rue-la-la example, each catalog offers limited quantities for limited times, making the shopping experience a game of getting what you want before others snatch it up. Shoppers are sent personalized sneak previews, giving them a heads-up when a catalog they like is going to be made available.

Use mobile to move beyond shopping
Think above and beyond shopping to new ways you can connect with your customers and keep them engaged, while still taking advantage of the channel’s technological possibilities.

North Face was an early innovator in this respect, creating a The North Face Trailhead App several years ago.

The app helps find trails, hikes and bike routes based on their location. It also lets you see your distance, speed and elevation, post photos taken on your trip and, of course, share your trip with your social networks.

This takes advantage of the channel’s possibilities, leverages location-based technology, and integrates with other channels such as social ones, but also links users to nearby North Face stores. And by supporting its customers’ lifestyles, North Face is creating closer ties, staying top of mind and, most definitely, supporting customer loyalty.

Use mobile to take physical shopping experiences to the next level
Innovative retailers are just starting to take advantage of mobile’s in-store possibilities.

One example is Sway, a boutique retailer in California with eight locations whose staff allows shoppers to check in with the store before they get there.

As Sway’s patrons walk into the store, they are greeted with comments about their past purchases, along with new complements to those outfits.

Mobile technology will also allow retailers to grab shoppers’ attention even when they are not in-store, or in-app.

Location-based services such as Google Now, for example, will enable smartphones to alert consumers to things in their surroundings. It could, for example, alert a shopper near a retail location about a sale or event happening at that moment, and entice them to stop in.

TO MAKE multichannel work for your company, remember it is about matching the experience to the mobile device by adapting to the mobile context first, and then pushing the boundaries of commerce – even going beyond it.

With the on-the-go-shopper increasingly turning to their smartphones and tablets to manage their daily lifeflow, retailers have the opportunity to build engagement and loyalty that transcends share of wallet and truly delights customers.

Dan Ledger is a principal at Endeavour Partners, Cambridge, MA. Reach him at [email protected].