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The biggest mobile retail wins and losses for 2015

The mobile Web, Starbucks’ application and digital wallets are among the big mobile retail wins in 2015, while lackluster app performance – with a few exceptions – Apple Pay’s disappointing showing and missed social integration opportunities dominate the losses.

Many major retailers delivered significantly improved mobile Web experiences this year and saw the majority of their traffic shift to mobile. More consumers are willing to make a purchase on mobile sites, but there is room for more improvement, while retailers’ apps are still too niche-oriented.

“Retailers who had previously been outsourcing their mobile Web experience to third parties brought the efforts in-house and made the mobile Web a priority and a core part of their in-house competencies,” said Jason Goldberg, senior vice president of content and commerce at Razorfish. “As a result we saw significant improvement in consumers’ willingness to purchase from mobile devices.

“We’ve historically had this ‘Mobile Gap’ where consumers were four times less likely to complete a purchase on a mobile device than they were from a laptop,” he said. “In 2015 the Mobile Gap narrowed to three times, and over the holidays it was often two times or better.

“Clearly consumers are willing to purchase from mobile Web sites when the experience is right.”

Making gains
Retailers made significant gains on the mobile Web in 2015.

Mobile is the dominant shopping trend at Walmart so far this holiday season, accounting for 70 percent of online traffic and nearly half of online orders since Thanksgiving. Kohl’s saw mobile drove 51 percent of visits to its Web site between Nov. 23 and 29 and a number of other major retailers saw similar results.

Apps are a different story. While retailers continue to focus on apps, many have a hard time driving significant downloads or ongoing engagement. Three exceptions are the apps for Amazon, Target and Walmart.

“Many retailers invested in apps but found it very difficult to get a meaningful audience to download their apps, and even fewer retailers were successful in making the use of that app a major part of their customers lives,” Mr. Goldberg said.

“The Amazon mobile app, Target with Cartwheel and Walmart with SavingsCatcher are really the only three retail apps to achieve a meaningful sustained audience,” he said.

Mobile wallets
Another important mobile retail win was mobile wallets. A slew of new wallets were announced or hit the market, including Apple Pay, Android Pay, Walmart Pay and Samsung Pay, helping to raise awareness with consumers and retailers.

However, with Apple Pay as one of the most hyped new mobile offerings at the beginning of 2015, the solution’s lackluster uptake is one of the big losses for the year.

“Retailers have been taking small steps toward the eventual realization of mobile wallet by incorporating both member payment information and digital coupons in mobile apps,” said Leah Hanson, mobile strategist at Resource/Ammirati.

“The main benefit for retailers is allowing users to buy more by collapsing steps in the purchase process,” she said. ”However, a full mobile wallet is currently less prevalent in the market, and many retailers’ mobile-wallet-related features are still far from seamless.”

Social integration
While it seemed the social sweepstakes and other promotions were everywhere in 2015, much of this activity lacked any real creativity and failed to fully take advantage of the opportunities on social media.

“Probably the lack of attention paid by retailers to social content integration and UGC [was the biggest mobile retail loss],” Ms. Hanson said. “Tactics that drive consideration and inspiration are becoming increasingly significant, and potential customers often see the experiences and comments of others as convincing testimonials.

“While some retailers invested in cultivating their own communities on mobile, many focused mostly on conversion rather than connecting the customer to the real-life product experiences of others,” she said.

Opportunities in 2016
Looking ahead to 2016, retailers need to double down on their mobile Web sites if they are to turn mobile traffic into sales at a similar rate to desktop.

While the movement toward responsive Web design has been a step in the right direction, this has also resulted in slow-to-load mobile sites, something that must be addressed in 2016.

“Many retailers still have stand alone mobile Web sites, often because they have outsourced their mobile web to a third party,” Mr. Goldberg said. “Now that the majority of your retail traffic is coming from mobile devices, you’d be wiser to outsource your desktop experience, and focus your internal efforts on offering a world class mobile Web experience.

“Even amongst retailers that did bring their mobile experience in-house this year, many were too dependent exclusively on responsive design resulting in bloated slow sites, that still carry a lot of the friction of the desktop experience,” he said.

“By the end of 2016 many retailers will be generating more revenue from mobile Web visitors than the do from desktop web visitors. If you don’t have a great mobile Web experience by the end of 2016, you aren’t likely to be a relevant -commerce site.”

Beyond better Web sites, there is also an opportunity for mobile to be treated as a companion in the path to purchase rather than a separate channel. With mobile becoming a visual search tool, content consumption device and cross-channel conduit, retailers need to look beyond on-device transactions.

“Customers are beginning to search and shop in more visual ways, and retailers can take advantage of these moments by allowing mobile to support visual cues at the shelf – via hashtags, product packaging, etc.,” Ms. Hanson said.

“Mobile-fueled product experiences that bring a product story to life, or present extended information, allow customers to make more informed choices, and could be the difference between someone moving on to the next product and picking up your product and adding it to their cart,” she said.

“Additionally, leveraging omnichannel features such as localized inventory display, buy online, pick up in store, and in-store mode to activate the store experience will increase trip assurance for customers and allow mobile to continue to play a major role in supporting physical retailer’s attempts to combat pure-play retailers like Amazon.”

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