This year appears to be a pivotal moment for m-commerce, as mobile shopping traffic outpaced desktop during the Black Friday weekend and retailers continue to test new ways to reach customers on their smartphones.
"We thought last year was the year of mobile, but this year really is the year of mobile," Mark Moran, senior vice president of marketing and distribution for Ebates, told Retail Dive.
More than 57% of online shopping traffic on Thanksgiving and Black Friday came from mobile devices, up about 15% from 2014, according to IBM. Yet the total dollar amount from desktop purchases still exceeded mobile — smart phones and tablets accounted for 36% of online sales during that period, IBM found.
Adobe reported similar results, with mobile traffic generating more than $1.2 billion in sales on Thursday and Friday. Another $514 million in sales came from mobile shoppers on Cyber Monday, accounting for 28% of online sales that day, Adobe found.
While m-commerce includes tablets, the growth is coming from smartphones. Tablets’ percentage of online shopping traffic and sales dipped slightly from 2014, accounting for just 15.5% of sales and 12.5% of online traffic in 2015, according to IBM. Meanwhile, smartphone sales and traffic saw large gains. Traffic from smartphones was three and a half times that of tablets on Black Friday, IBM found.
These stats are the latest proof of the increasing role mobile is playing in the retail industry. Retailers, including office supply giant Staples, are well aware of this trend and are trying everything from exclusive mobile-only deals and text alerts to in-store near-field communication in order to woo smartphone savvy shoppers.
Crafting an optimal mobile experience
"Fundamentally, mobile is here to stay," Prat Vemana, Staples Inc.’s vice president of e-commerce, product and analytics, told Retail Dive.
Staples' strategy calls for an integrated omnichannel customer experience in which mobile provides connections between the in-store and online shopping. For example, the retailer's mobile customers have a much higher propensity of buying online and picking up in-store than desktop users, something that proved popular during the Black Friday weekend, said Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global e-commerce at Staples. Those shoppers are likely to find additional items for purchase once they stop in the store for pickup.
Mobile experiences like this need to parallel online experiences in order to drive sales, Patricia Huddleston, a retailing professor at Michigan State University, told Retail Dive.
"You need to be able to see the product clearly, you need to be able to order with one or two clicks, and you need to make the mobile experience easy for them," she said.
Retailers also are using mobile apps to provide push notifications and text messages to consumers, including the use of iBeacons and near-field communication to send messages and alerts to consumers as they shop in-store. For example, a retailer can send an alert to app users' smart phones that certain products are on sale when they walk near the items in a store.
"It’s sort of tricky with mobile because don’t want to be bombarding people with messages that aren’t relevant to them," Huddleston said. "There’s sort of a fine line … If retailers are judicious in the use of those kinds of messages, that can help make sure their maximizing the opportunities in mobile."
Staples has seen a significant increase in subscribers for text-based offers, and the retailer is moving toward text notifications to alert customers when their orders are ready. It saves them time by eliminating the need to open an email, Masud said.
"We’re excited about all the development here. We anticipate next year and the coming year to be even bigger," Masud said. "Who knows where things go from here, but we know for sure it’s a mobile-first world and we want to make sure that we take advantage of the fact that it’ll begin with a pixel and it may end in a store or on a desktop. We’re totally OK with that. We’re completely channel-agnostic."
Staples completely rebuilt the iOS and Android apps, taking a clean approach focused on providing a seamless, quick and easy experience. The app preloads for users and enables mobile-exclusive deals. Given the rise in its mobile consumers, the company plans to launch a responsive web design for its mobile site early next year, which optimizes the site for different sized smartphone and tablet screens. It also plans to unveil more in-store enabled features on the apps soon.
Staples isn’t afraid of trying new ideas to see how customers respond, Vemana said. They’ve offered mobile-only deals, which allow the retailer to see how new product lines perform or offer sales on limited-inventory items. If a deal is overexposed and offered on multiple channels, the item can sometimes run out quickly. Mobile-only deals have garnered a good response so far, but it's too early to provide a full run-down on how they're performing, he said.
Driving mobile traffic
Ebates also has used mobile-exclusive promotions as a way to capture additional traffic on its mobile app. It offers Mobile Monday deals at least once a month where members can access double cash back through the mobile app. These app-only promos are offered more frequently during the holiday shopping season. Ebates is pushing its app since there is typically more conversion and engagement with app users than other mobile shoppers, Moran said.
"We can have an even more powerful experience in terms of some of the features that we have built into our app," he said. "We often see higher usage rates and loyalty rates, there’s also the ability to selectively send push notifications and have a regular communication stream with those app users outside of a normal email channel or people who (use) the website."
Ebates also sought mobile traffic through advertising, especially leading up to Black Friday. The company’s TV commercials prominently feature smart phones, and it actively targets certain mobile segments through paid search and social media.
Ebates is testing a new checkout module for its app, which it hopes to fully launch in the first half of 2016. Users can provide their credit card information once then use a "buy now" button to make purchases at participating retailers. Moran said he hopes the feature helps level the playing field by providing a strong checkout experience for shoppers whether they’re buying from a large retailer with an established mobile site or a smaller boutique with a weaker mobile experience.
Our mobile and specifically smartphone share of shopping is going to double year over year. it's here, it's a reality.
"I think there are still websites that are trying to do everything they can to make the mobile shopping experience as easy as it can be and as close to the experience that one can get on a desktop," he said. "I think that's still a bit of a form factor challenge, but it is getting better and better and we're seeing conversion rates rise and rise."