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Mobile necessary for taking advantage of expected back-to-school windfall

While a jump in the number of consumers expecting to spend more during the upcoming back-to-school shopping season is good news for retailers, successfully grabbing a piece of the action will require a strong mobile-focused omnichannel strategy.

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual Back-to-School Consumer Spending Survey reveals that 67 percent of shoppers plan to spend more than last year while 79 percent plan to use a mobile device while shopping in-store for back-to-school. Shoppers will also be using mobile increasingly throughout the purchase journey, with 7 percent planning to make purchases online and pick them up in-store.

“The biggest difference in how consumers are leveraging mobile this year compared with last year is that consumers have become more comfortable with shopping and buying on mobile and they are leveraging mobile throughout their entire shopping journey,” said Derrick Lin, brand and mobile strategist at Resource/Ammirati, Columbus, OH. “A recent study revealed that 51 percent of mobile sales are now physical goods, and a study by Deloitte showed that mobile influenced about 30 percent of in-store sales at the end of last year.

“On the retailer side, they are making progress in catching up with consumer mobile shopping behaviors,” he said. “According to observations in our latest Mobile Intelligence Report, retailers continue to reduce the redundant steps and friction in their mobile touch points choosing to evolve towards a more seamless experience.

“They continue to direct customer engagement to deeper and relevant information and services closer to conversion. We are also seeing retailers expand their mobile experiences to encompass more of the customer journey, provide more ways to shop, and more freedom to personalize customer experience.”

Sales rebound
This year has the potential to deliver a strong back-to-school shopping season, welcome news for retailers following several years of lackluster sales.

The ICSC’s survey shows that 67 percent of consumers expect to spend more this year, up from 50 percent in 2015 and 39 percent in 2013.

Mobile will be critical for retailers to take part in the expected windfall.

The ICSC’s findings point to the need for retailers to have a strong mobile strategy that reaches customers across the path to purchase.

Of the 79 percent consumers who plan to use a mobile device while shopping in a physical store, 44 percent will use their phone to compare prices, 28 percent will use digital coupons, 26 percent will check ratings and reviews, 24 percent will check inventory and availability of items and 17 percent will email or text friends and family for a second opinion on an item.

Millennials are the most likely demographic to use their smartphones while shopping.

Click and collect
While 83 percent of purchases expected to involve a physical store, mobile will be playing a role in other ways as well.

For example, 7 percent of purchases will be made online and picked up in-store. The trend toward click-and-collect opens an important opportunity for retailers, with 79 percent of these consumers saying they are likely to buy additional items once they go to the store.

With back-to-school shoppers very price and deal driven, retailers should look to mobile to deliver nearby, relevant offers to shoppers. Mobile can also make it easier for shoppers to store and redeem coupons.

Consumers are also influenced by marketing, with 74 percent of households reporting that they will likely start back-to-school purchasing when advertisements from major retailers begin to appear. 

“This year, the winning back-to-school retail strategies will ensure customers can customize their experience and personalize their purchase,” Mr. Lin said. “Winning retailers will provide flexibility in how customers pay and acquire the products.

“They also have to have the ability to take customers directly from where they engage with a brand to what they want via deep linking,” he said. “This enables them to complete a purchase all within one experience, setting retailers apart from competition.”

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