Mobile-first strategy is really about cross-platform experience
Udayan Bose
April 25, 2019

The "trends to watch for in 2019" articles last year were unanimous on the importance of "mobile-first" strategy, and with good reason. Mobile market share now exceeds desktop worldwide, and mobile share in North America has climbed 12% in the last four years.

There's even better news for the retail sector:

  • A majority of searches are now being conducted on mobile.
  • Mobile conversions accounted for more than 34% of e-commerce sales in 2017, and by 2021 they're projected to account for 54% of the total.

As a result, smart retail businesses are devoting an increasing share of their marketing resources to mobile.

I'd offer one caution, though: "Mobile-first" doesn’t mean mobile-only.

Instead, it's about assuring a continuity of experience between the mobile device, the desktop and the physical store.

Why?

First, desktop still matters -- a lot. Despite the growth in mobile, shoppers still convert three times more often on desktop, and desktop accounts for more than 60% of revenue.

Second, the role of the physical store is evolving. A recent Salesforce study found that 71% of shoppers say they use mobile devices in-store (83% for the 18-to-44-year-old demographic). These customers use mobile on-site for a range of activities, including purchasing and reading reviews.

Third, retailers need to account for mobile banking and mobile payments. Are services like Apple Pay, PayPal One-Touch, Visa Checkout, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Venmo, Zelle and Cash integrated across in-store and online channels?

Fourth, how well is the integrated experience tailored to each of an expanded range of customer journey models? Consider how many entrees customers have to a retailer's products: TV and radio, websites, blogs, YouTube videos (influencers or serendipitous encounters), podcasts (accessed via mobile or desktop) and in-person -- word-of-mouth, shopping with friends, saw someone wearing or using it, etc.

Next, how many ways can an item be purchased? In most cases, this means direct from the retailer on desktop or mobile (using the website or app) or in-store.

Finally, how many steps might the customer take between discovery and conversion?

We still use "funnel" terminology sometimes, but the process is actually a journey -- oftentimes a meandering and convoluted one. For example, more than two-thirds of consumers move between devices when shopping online, and 98% of them access multiple devices each day. Two-thirds initiate the conversion journey on a smartphone, and 61% of them make the purchase on a desktop. And the experience must be seamless. Two out of three consumers say a mobile-friendly site makes them more likely to buy, and nearly three-quarters are more likely to return.

It isn't just the device that matters -- where the user is physically makes a huge difference. Perhaps not surprisingly, purchases made at home are 25% more likely to be on a desktop (a data point that by itself tells us a great deal about the importance of usability to conversion).

And of course, mobile purchases are 20% more likely to be spontaneous than desktop purchases, which has clear implications for location-based content. Should an ad aim to begin the research process for a longer-cycle decision or incite an impulse buy? If the user is near a mall, perhaps serving an ad for the latter is a better decision.

In addition to reading reviews (as noted above), some consumers prefer the touch of the in-store experience, where they can try things on, see themselves in the mirror and ask their friends how they look. For these customers, retailers need to make the transition from online to in-person as seamless as the mobile-to-desktop experience. Research wherever, buy wherever -- the customer experience is agnostic.

Additionally, are these customers insisting on the in-store component because they don't trust the online experience for look and fit? If so, there's significant value in developing online fitting and modeling apps so they can make the purchase decision on their own terms.

When we take all of this information together, we begin to understand how important it is for retailers to serve a host of customer journeys.

The seamless integration between mobile (discovery, research) and desktop (conversion) is the most obvious, but what sort of content is in place for the customer who saw an ad on TV and stops by the store to try something on and look in the mirror (before going home and buying on desktop)?

Smart marketers understand that an effective content platform addresses every stage of the journey -- from discovery to comparison to conversion and beyond.

These are just a few of the top-line user experience considerations facing retailers -- development of a genuinely holistic mobile-first strategy is an ongoing, complex process.

But it’s essential, because customers have too many options at their disposal to tolerate a buying process that’s clunky, especially in the conversion phase.

Udayan Bose is the CEO of retail search marketing agency NetElixir.