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Lessons learned from the 2011 holiday shopping season

January 5, 2012

Many ways exist for retailers to offer even better mobile experiences

Now that the 2011 retail holiday shopping season is over, it is time to start assessing what worked and what did not. While mobile was one of the big success stories, it was not all eggnog and candy canes, with some mobile experiences falling short of consumers’ expectations.

As retailers begin to look forward to what 2012 will bring, it is clear that mobile will continue to play an increasingly important role. Savvy retailers are starting now to work on putting the tools in place for making the mobile shopping experience the best that it can be.

“I think the biggest take away from 2011 holiday marketing was the emergence of an enormous mobile marketing gap amongst retailers,” said Paul Gelb, vice president of mobile at Razorfish, Seattle, WA.

“As the adoption of mobile devices and usage continues to increase exponentially, being on the wrong end of the mobile marketing gap will have an even larger impact,” he said.
“Unequivocally, we are seeing the new battleground for consumers is the mobile phone. Retailers that are not ready are ceding high ground to their competitors and may have trouble leveling the playing field in the future. ”

More mobile sites
Retailers that capitalized on the new mobile opportunities had a significant competitive advantage that delivered bottom line results during the important holiday shopping period, per Mr. Gelb. 
Marketers that were not able to effectively leverage mobile during the holiday shopping season missed out on the estimated 5 percent to 18 percent of consumer traffic and purchases that took place via mobile devices for many retailers.

One of the big successes this year from a mobile standpoint was the number of retailers who implemented mobile sites, helping to make consumers feel more confident about making purchases online via mobile.
“One of the big changes we saw this year was that most of our retailers have a version of their Web site that is optimized for mobile and tablets,” said Matt Coffman, chief technology officer of iGoDigital, Indianapolis, IN. “This is a big change from a couple of years ago.

IGoDigital helps retailers create personal shopping experiences through email, mobile, Web sites, call centers and in stores. Its clients include Walmart and Best Buy, The Home Depot and Staples.

A couple of the best practices that emerged and could be copied by other retailers this year include creating one version of the Web site that will render regardless of what device a user is accessing it from. This addresses the fragmentation in the mobile space, with so many different devices being used by consumers that it is almost impossible for retailers to create an experience for each.

Savvy retailers also gave mobile customers a way to switch between a mobile optimized site and the desktop site in case there was some functionality on the main site that a customer wanted to access but couldn’t find on the mobile site.

“This is a seamless way to maintain the same functionality from the main Web site on any device,” Mr. Coffman said. “We’ve seen a lot of retailers going this direction for how they create and manage Web sites that consumers are using on mobile devices.”

Long-term strategy
However, despite the significant presence of mobile sites, there were several issues such as sites that did not render properly.
Additionally, some consumers were underwhelmed by sites that were not designed with the mobile user in mind and therefore did not provide the functionality they were looking for, such as a streamlined checkout process.

“The presumption that customers will research on mobile and buy on desktop will get you through in the short term,” Mr. Coffman said. “But, in the long term, mobile is here to stay and a lot of retailers haven’t made the jump to make it easy to buy on a cell phone.

“You don’t want to dumb down your site so much that when consumers are ready to buy via mobile they can’t,” he said.

Retailers also could have done a better job of incorporating third-party services such as recommendations to create a guided shopping process similar to what is on the main Web site.

“Make sure, when you incorporate third-party services into your Web site, that you put them in mobile as well,” Mr. Coffman said. “Try to carry as many of those functions from the main Web site into mobile because those tools are extremely valuable to users for ultimately finding what they are looking for.”

Some retailers forgot to include easy to find links to store inventory and pricing, two of the most popular activities for mobile shoppers. Not having this information handy can be frustrating for customers whether they are in a store or looking at a mobile Web site or app.

Other marketers failed to deliver experiences and with context, such as location and time.

“We had a very high percentage of shoppers going to mobile to check store inventory and pricing information and in some cases and finding it, which leads to a very frustrated consumer,” Mr. Coffman said.

The number of mobile shoppers is expected to continue to grow this year and could account for 20 percent of online traffic and sales by the 2012 holiday shopping season.  Which means there is no time to be lost on crafting a mobile strategy for the upcoming year. 

“The primary lesson from the 2011 holiday shopping season is that retailers have to have a very detailed and full strategy for how to deal with the mobile consumer,” Mr. Coffman said. “Because the mobile consumer is part of a very large and growing segment of any online retailers overall pool of customers.”

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

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