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Mobile lessons learned from 2014 holiday shopping season

By
January 23, 2015

The Walmart app

The Walmart app

A significant mobile win during the holiday 2014 shopping season was the number of retailers who regularly updated content for on-the-go shoppers while failures included a lack of cross-device consistency and inefficient click-and-collect experiences.

Overall, mobile sales and traffic spiked during the holidays similar to the past few years, pointing to the need for retailers to not wait until the last minute to put a mobile strategy in place for the holidays.

“Mobile traffic spikes and sales spikes during the holiday season were beyond analyst predictions,” said Jeremy Jacobs, associate director of strategy at Resource/Ammirati. “Traffic and sales spikes traditionally carry over into the rest of the year with Q1 – Q3 volumes keeping the pace they generated during the holiday season.

“These spikes provide tangible and real revenue for companies that position themselves for success with smart strategies and investments in the early part of 2014,” he said. “Too often, retailers wait until later in the year to build mobile and then rush to get something in-market that lacks the punch and nuance of a well-orchestrated mobile strategy.”

Extra steps
It was clear from the number of retailers who made at least some effort to have a mobile presence that the retail sector took to heart results from the 2013 holiday shopping season about the importance of mobile for shopping during the holidays.  Mobile is so crucial during this time of year because consumers are time-crunched and pulling out their phones to sneak in some gift-buying and party-planning when they are free for a few minutes or to support their in-store shopping.

Evidence of the increased focus on mobile included more opportunities to search out of stocks and place orders online via a mobile phone while in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Many retailers also took the extra step during the recent holiday shopping period to give their mobile sites and apps a holiday feel with gift guides, seasonal deals and featured products.

Target_Kids_Holiday_Gifting_082014Target’s Wish List app

For the upcoming holiday season, expect many retailers to follow the example set by the more advanced mobile retailers to alter content throughout the season.

The Home Depot updated its holiday gift pages to include items still available for shipping in time for Christmas and eventually updated content to include what was available in-store for local pickup once shipping deadlines had passed, per Resource/Ammirati.

PetSmart had a calendar to provide a full list of holiday-related activities and key shipping dates to help customers plan their trips.

“Advanced retailers altered content throughout the season to provide a more relevant and timely experience,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Little steps like this go a long way in building confidence in customers.

“Waiting until checkout to provide customer shipping assurances is too late, especially on mobile Web and apps where clicks and steps matter,” he said.

Consistent experiences
Another important lesson from the 2014 holiday shopping period is the need for consistency across devices, with many retailers continuing to emphasize desktop experiences over mobile.

This meant that experiences that were available to shoppers while they were at home on their desktop or laptop were unavailable on the devices they carried with them while they were out shopping.

macy's other 420

“Consistency in execution was not as good as it could have been,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Many retailers from mass to specialty prioritized desktop holiday updates over an all-encompassing approach across desktop, mobile Web, mobile app, and search on both desktop and mobile.

“One simple example is holiday gift guides,” he said. “Unfortunately, the emphasis was on desktop, so mobile views either didn’t exist or were not optimized.”

The right balance
Another lesson learned is the need to find the right balance between consumer demand for well-rounded mobile experiences and mobile sites and apps that are quick to load.

Mobile sites during the holidays were more data-heavy than in previous years thanks to retailers’ investments in bringing a wide array of products, features and functionality to on-the-go shoppers.

However, as mobile traffic spiked during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, retailers such as Best Buy, Neiman Marcus, Gamestop, J. Crew and others experienced outages and slowdowns. Having a mobile site that performs slowly or not all can be a big loss during the holidays, with shoppers likely to simply jump to another brand’s site and possibly not return.

“More shoppers are spending time on phones so retailers need to make sure that content is optimized for the phone — pages download fast, links are easily clickable,” said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

Click and collect
One big fail during the 2014 holiday season that retailers will need to improve upon this year is the click-and-collect experience. This points to the need for retailers to invest in integrating their operations so they can provide the omnichannel experiences that shoppers are looking for.

“Organizational structures did not lend well to reducing wait times for prepaid/pre-ordered merchandise pick up,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director for Yankee Group. “Next year, the process must go smoother.

“There were also many companies that were still not ready for the digital divide, where consumers demanded better mobile experiences,” she said. “Infrastructure must evolve to be more agile and real-time.

“The backend foundation that handle core processes such as order management, inventory and dynamic pricing needs to be addressed to enable consumer demand for click and collect, one hour delivery and cross-sell.”

Retailers also failed to fully embrace the opportunity to leverage location.

“There are not enough stores that offer location-based services during the shopping experience in real time,” Ms. Kingstone said. “There were mobile circulars and some mobile offers, but what about sales associates using mobile POS or tablets that are connected to enable a customer to request service based on location. “

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

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