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Can in-store mobile save the day as retail foot traffic plummets?

With foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar retail locations dropping 11.4 percent in November, retailers are increasingly looking for ways to harness mobile to drive convenience and value for those shoppers who are showing up.

By enabling in-store Wi-Fi, push notifications, mobile maps and iBeacons, retailers are trying to make it easier for shoppers to find what they are looking for and to give them a reason to make a purchase. Shoppers are taking notice, with GPShopper reporting that 10 percent of retail application usage for its clients on Black Friday occurred in-store.

“Mobile is playing an undeniable role in the in-store experience this holiday season,” said Maya Mikhailov, executive vice president and co-founder of GPShopper. “Walmart, Target, Best Buy and others have made mobile pivotal to the in-store experience this holiday by: informing consumers of in-store Black Friday offers, giving shoppers in-store maps to help them navigate to their gift purchases or even offering exclusive in-store games to make stores more engaging for all ages.

“Bricks-and mortar retailers are realizing mobile – and specifically mobile apps – is becoming essential to increasing overall shopper conversion and retaining shopper loyalty.”

Fewer store visits
Consumers are making fewer trips to retail stores and, instead, embracing the convenience of shopping wherever they are from their smartphones.

New data from RetailNext reveals that stores in the United States saw an 11 percent decline in sales in November while in-store traffic dropped 11.4 percent.  The in-store sales decline was more pronounced over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Mobile maps to assist in-store shoppers.

The growth in online shopping had a considerable impact on the results.

Mobile accounted for 52.1 percent of traffic to retail Web sites on Thanksgiving Day, up 22 percent from last year, according to data from IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Mobile sales grew at even faster pace, up 25.4 percent compared to last year, accounting for 32.3 percent of online sales (see story).

But the mobile trend is bigger than simply enabling online sales on the go. Shoppers are increasingly embracing their mobile devices to support a variety of shopping-related activities and the retailers who take advantage of this changing behavior can help drive in-store sales.

In-store sales
GPShopper’s data shows that in-store app usage converted mmommerce sales at double the rate of other users.

RetailNext’s data supports the sales opportunity with in-store shoppers, with its data showing that while there are fewer trips to stores, shoppers are spending more when they are there.

Mobile can help retailers save a sale in-store if local inventory runs out by enabling shoppers to scan an item and easily find it online to complete a purchase.

“With smartphone penetration and retailer mobile marketing adoption both at their highest state ever, we are definitely seeing mobile playing a big role this holiday season,” said Derrick Lin, mobile strategist at Resource/Ammirati. “When shoppers are standing in front of shelves in a store, they are most likely in the ‘assess’ phase of the modern consumer decision journey.

“They’re seeking information and peer opinions about products to help them narrow down their options and make a choice,” he said. “With the chaos brought on by increased in-store traffic during the holidays, more shoppers will skip store associates and use mobile phones to find answers to their questions.

“The impact of this behavior on retailers will be significant because mobile-influenced sales now span across mobile and in-store sales making it more important than ever for retailers to create a mobile in-store experience that move consumers past the assess phase and toward purchase.”

Driving awareness
For in-store strategies to be effective, retailers need to understand their target audience’s needs throughout the consumer decision journey.

Retailers also need to make sure they are adequately informing shoppers, who are hungry for mobile solutions, of the various ways they can use their smartphones in store.

For example, in-store mobile payments use during the Thanksgiving weekend was not as strong as it possibly could have been if retailers had done a better job of informing shoppers that they could pay using Apple Pay (see story).

“The main driving force behind the growing use of mobile in stores is consumer awareness about online shopping support,” Mr. Lin said. “For example, retailers like Amazon and Toys-R-Us provide extended product information and content to help shoppers make purchase decisions, Staples provides in-store Wi-Fi to enable in-store mobile shopping behaviors, and Walmart and Lowe’s have created mobile apps with ‘in-store mode’ that help consumers navigate stores.

“In addition to these tactics, the growth of mobile payments and beacons will further enhance the consumer in-store experience,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York