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How are retailers responding to mobile shopping?

by Laura Aitken-Burt September 23, 2015

​There's no denying it – consumer habits are changing with the digital age. Since smartphones have become the norm, almost all of us have the internet in our pocket at all times of day... and with that comes the irresistible temptation to check our emails, update our social media pages and surf the web.

In 2015, 65% of the global population is using mobile phones, and last year 1.25 billion smartphones were sold across the world. Because of this, retailers have to respond accordingly as sales via handheld devices increase.  Between 2012 and 2014 sales via smartphones catapulted from 5% to to 34%. This figure will only continue to increase and it's estimated that $90 billion worth of mobile payments will be made by 2017. As consumers increasingly use their mobiles to become more knowledgeable about products  - and even use their phones as an in-aisle companion whilst shopping in-store -  the influence of mobile phones on shopping is something a consultant cannot ignore in their financial and business model advice.

So with 85% of smartphone owners now using  their mobile devices while in-store in some capacity, what are those busy fingers up to online and how can retailers improve their mobile sales?

Checking customer reviews

We all like to know that our purchase is a good decision, and with the internet at our fingertips to check other people's experiences with the same product, it’s a temptation that’s tough to resist. Customer comments are also helpful for retailers themselves to understand their market better – fashion chain Zara for instance has been tweaking products in response to customer reviews by sending the comments straight to the manufacturer. Such adjustments also make the consumer feel like their voice is being listened to by their favourite brands. Customer reviews online also give the retailer the opportunity to respond to both positive and negative comments and get their view across as well as showing there is a high customer care program in place. What’s more, making these reviews available in store can add to the social proof that products have been well received

Comparison websites

We all like a good bargain. Having a high rating on a comparison website is therefore imperative. A survey of 2,000 European consumers conducted by Tradedoubler found that 42% of smartphone owners use their device to compare prices in-store, and 13% have switched stores after finding a better offer elsewhere. Retailers must therefore look at their competition on pricing and ensure they are offering something extra if the price is higher, for instance guarantees/warranties on electrical products or clearly showing their quality is higher.

Payment Apps

The app market is constantly evolving to create easy to use solutions to our every day activities. In the retail world, payment apps aim to make mobile buying easier, and industries should ensure they integrate these new options into their mobile shopping experiences. Google Wallet and Apple Passbook are examples of the big digital giants trying to entice audiences to their products, and Mastercard now offers in-app purchasing, allowing a 'one tap buy' with bank details stored on their phones. Of course, the security of a smartphone as a paying device has become a growing concern as these technologies develop. The new 'fingerprint pay' between Paypal and the new Galaxy S5 perhaps signals the beginning of biometric security within mobile shopping.  So what’s most interesting is that mobile sales are becoming a way for express payments whilst in stores themselves... In our busy everyday lives, time is of the essence, and apps such as Qthru allow people to check how long they’ll have to wait in-store. Pizza Express have also created a payment app to save people waiting for the bill. These new advancements are changing the way we spend money,  giving us the ability to grab products as quickly as we’ve ordered them.

Mobile-friendly websites

It's all well and good having a swish app for your store... but what if your customer hasn’t  downloaded it? They’ll search for the store's website, and if this isn’t mobile friendly, potential sales are almost certainly lost as customers can’t get to the information they want quickly and efficiently. This partly explains the growth of Amazon on mobile, as their interface is so easy to use.


iBeacon, a Bluetooth low-energy technology, transmits data to smartphones when entering a shop, allowing the retailer to use pop-up notifications to welcome shoppers to the store, and pointing them towards sales and deals. Mobile innovator Urban Airship is trying to find new ways to store and track customer data over time. This will mean that better customer profiles can be created to personalise in-store visits through iBeacon technology and offer rewards tailored to the individual customers themselves.

QR ('Quick Response') code scanning

These are a type of barcode that can be printed on posters, billboards and packaging to be scanned by mobiles, giving further information about an item. Although originally cited to be a new 'hyperlink in the offline world', this technology hasn’t taken off as much as once thought, leading some to think that this new technology has already become obsolete. This may have been because the scanning technology wasn’t already installed in smartphones which did not encourage people to experiment with it, but perhaps they can still be resurrected for marketing purposes, such as the scavenger hunts to win prizes which were initiated byTurkish Airlines  for the 2012 Olympics.

Optimising the in store experience

Mobiles can help with that dreaded search in a vast supermarket for the products you’re looking for. The comparison site Best Buy now has an app to show you exactly where on a shelf your products are for a given recipe. This has also taken off in Shanghai with the Carrefour Smart Shopper app.

Social media incentives

The growing importance of social media within marketing strategies is particularly crucial for mobile sales, as smartphones play a key role in  the social media success-story. Hashtags on twitter can make your product trend and give exposure to your brand. This has been effectively used by Marc Jacobs,who redeemed tweets including #MJDaisyChain with in-store credit. Urban Outfitters have also encouraged customers to take photos of their outfits and promote them on social media in exchange for vouchers. This gives the shopper a vested interest in promoting the product whilst also showing their friends their latest fashion finds. The Brazilian branch of C&A even introduced hangers for their clothing products with an electronic screen that showed the number of facebook likes the item had online. Social media marketing should particularly be taken very seriously by any retailer with a strong 14-25 age market. These young people are the ones who will be using such social media more incessantly as they keep up with the latest trends through these online platforms.

'Hijaking' customers

Location-based offers are very important in mobile retail, as they encourage people who are nearby to actually come into the store and potentially make a purchase. Meatpack, a shoe store in Guatemala, has been using GPS in phones to detect when a customer is in a competitor's store in a shopping mall. A push notification offering 100% discount in store would appear and would decrease by 1% every second until the customer arrived at the Meatpack store. This type of offer is the beginning of blending online and offline sales by making shopping more of an experience in itself.

Free wifi in-store

Infrastructure is so important for digital marketing to become more prevalent and successful. Although many users will already have data plans on their mobiles, the chance to save some of their allowance with free wifi will encourage people to use the internet for their review and comparison browsing, allowing people to have the online experience in-store

Retailer mobile devices

There are even routes for retailers themselves to increase the prevalence of mobile shopping within their stores, with floor managers having hand held devices to show customers further product information, videos and photos to increase the chance of a sale, as well as offering the ability to pay without queuing. Clothing store Moosejaw now has 70% of its in-store sales going through iPod touch devices of their staff who can help their customer and take payment immediately, also giving customers less time to change their minds.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that the type of store reflects the way in which people are using their mobiles – for electronics and furnishings the emphasis is on reviews and comparison websites (because of the high value of the purchase) whereas for groceries, discount codes and flash deals are more widespread. And - unsurprisingly - the electronics sector encourages further electronic usage with a 58% use of digital when making a purchasing choice.

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