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Mobile lessons learned from the 2013 holiday shopping season

While mobile was one of the bright spots for retailers during the 2013 holiday shopping season, not every mobile tactic hit a home run, although a few came close.

Overall, holiday sales were weak but, from a mobile perspective, the results were phenomenal, with mobile traffic reaching 48 percent of all online traffic while mobile sales grew 40 percent to reach 29 percent of online holiday sales, according to data from IBM. As retailers look ahead to the 2014 holiday shopping season, they will be applying the lessons learned at the end of last year to help them better meet mobile consumers’ needs.

“Retailers should recognize that the highly personal nature of mobile means mobile is not simply another channel for mass broadcast,” said Derrick Lin, brand and mobile strategist at Resource, Columbus, OH. “Personalization and context will be key for holiday season 2014.

“[The] focus on mobile marketing should be broadened to beyond driving mobile sales and also include proximity and in-store,” he said. “Store experience is going to be the next battleground for retailers. It will become brick -and-mortar retailers’ competitive advantage when they combat etailers.

“Maybe most importantly, with the ever-expanding list of mobile tactics available to leverage and tackle, retailers should really focus their mobile efforts on strengthening their own competitive advantage, whether it’s their customer service, product availability and selection, or store experience.”

Social shopping
Social shopping is one area where significant advances were made last year as evidenced by strong programs from a variety of retailers during the holidays.

For example, Target’s Awesome Shop site showcased the top pinned items on Pinterest as well as the best reviewed items to deliver a highly curated experience that made shopping from a smartphone fun and easy.

After some initial experiments, Instagram is an area where retailers made a significant push during the holidays with positive results.

“Retailers understood that Instagram was where they needed to be within the Facebook ecosystem to lure customers and strengthen engagement during this past holiday season,” said Craig Elimeliah, vice president and director of creative technology at Rapp, New York.

“We saw retailers taking advantage of the platform by posting pictures of products and deals, luring consumers in with other consumers posting holiday pics that helped lift sales,” he said.

“Nonlinear forms of native advertising such as people posting pictures of their gifts or what they were buying on Instagram ultimately returned the best value for retailers looking for that extra bump.”

Mobile content
Looking ahead into 2014, expect to see retailers building off of their mobile and social successes by designing programs that encourage shoppers to post more pictures, helping them to create moments of implied endorsements.

Over the holidays, British retailer Ted Baker encouraged customers and consumers passing by its stores to take selfies in front of large digital mistletoe installation and upload them to social media for a chance to win a prize (see story).

Perhaps one of the biggest changes between the 2012 and 2013 holiday season was the sheer amount of available information that catered to the mobile shopper. There were more smartphone and tablet sites, a lot more mobile optimized emails, more SMS and push notifications as well as mobile offers and coupons.

This shows not only a bigger commitment to mobile but also that retailers are beginning to understand the kind of information users are looking for.

“In 2013 we really saw a great leap in commitment in mobile from retailers,” Resource’s Mr. Lin said. “The biggest thing retailers did right was information accessibility.

“We saw a lot more information was made accessible on mobile compared with previous holiday season in 2012,” he said.

While more mobile information is good, many retailers failed to make a distinction between screens and did not consider the mobile user’s context, as evidenced by the fact that the same content and information was available on every screen.

Going forward, retailers need to do a better job of taking the mobile user’s context into consideration – where are they, what are they doing – if they are to deliver results. Retailers also need to do a better job of using mobile to deliver personalized experiences.

Breaking down silos
While more retailers got in front of mobile users with online content, many still simply offered a smaller version of their main site.

Another problem during the recent holiday season was overbuilt mobile sites, which can negatively impact conversion rates if the user experience is too complex.

The lesson for retailers heading into 2014 is the need for mobile-specific content.

“While leveraging and extending backside ecommerce operations into mobile is important, it is equally important to maintain the ability to deliver mobile specific messaging, product offerings, and even pricing,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

“As mobile continues to grow an unprecedented rate, having a simple, effective integrated and dedicated mobile site that allows for maximum flexibility and customization will be essential,” he said.

“Oh, and get that silo wall broken down between ecommerce and marketing.”

Ignoring larger opportunities
One fail over the holidays was that many retailers put too much focus on solely driving mobile sales and ignored the larger opportunity of capturing mobile influenced sales.

There also was a lack of mobile calls-to-action integrated into traditional and other digital channels, suggesting that mobile is still somewhat siloed.

The holiday season also reflected how retailers are struggling to leverage mobile social advertising.

In particular, one of the misses over the holidays was with auto-play video ads on Facebook.

“Facebook itself got a decent amount of traction from advertisers who wanted to give its auto-play video ads a try,” Rapp’s Mr. Elimeliah said. “There are mixed reviews around this new ad format and if it can become a sustainable source of revenue for the company.

“Retailers are still quite enamored with Facebook and social in general and are trying to find the magic potion that will ultimately crack the code for in-stream advertising,” he said. “Facebook does a great job in getting retailers to test out new products but, to date, it’s been hard to determine how valuable those ad products have actually been.”

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