The Multi-Channel Implications of Mobile and Mobile Strategies for Retail

Recently I read some thought-provoking points about the approaches that many retailers are taking toward engaging people on mobile devices. It is clear that the retail business is among the first to experience rapid and permanent change thanks in large part to the ways in which consumers from all walks of life are willingly loading shopping apps onto their phones. People want to use their phones to research goods and services, complete a purchase and engage with brands when and how it’s convenient to them. And that leads to mobile.

Here’s an analogy: unless it’s Super Bowl Sunday, you probably don’t enjoy ads when you’re watching TV. That’s because you turned the TV on to watch a show, not to watch ads that may not be remotely relevant to you. But now think about online search. When you’re surfing the web, you’re often looking for commercial information: where to get those new sneakers for your kid, or whether that handbag your wife wants for Valentine’s Day is worth it, what other people thought of that hotel. Search ads, therefore, are not intrusive, but (hopefully) relevant and helpful.

The same holds true on mobile, where people are actively rewarding those brands whose mobile strategies are focused on consumer needs—the need to complete a transaction more quickly, to locate merchandise, to compare prices across multiple shopping apps. Mobile has now become the primary way in which many consumers engage with a brand. That means that what many retailers once considered a nice-to-have has actually become fundamental to their business. If I flip that around, then it’s safe to say that if you haven’t developed a substantive, customer-centric approach to mobile commerce, you’re risking not just your career, but your business.

The brand implications are profound. Consumers expect a consistent brand experience regardless of channel. That seems obvious. However, not many brands have cracked the multi-channel nut. Consumers aren’t just using their devices to research an isolated product or two from the privacy of their homes: they’re walking into stores armed with their smart phones and tablets, ready to use their devices to augment their in-store information gathering, research other retailers that carry similar items, and even to discover related merchandise they hadn’t considered. Who knows, these informed consumers may even be teaching your sales teams a thing or two.

Yuchun Lee