Retailers need to get more serious about m-commerce

First published by Retail Week 21 November, 2013 | By Simon Hathaway

In 2011, Tesco HomePlus launched a ‘virtual supermarket’ on a Seoul subway station wall.  It was a bold, brave, creative experiment and it swiftly became the global poster child for how people shopped via their mobiles.

Homeplus_Virtual Store_4

But back then, only 11.9% of Koreans used their mobiles to shop, now the figure stands at 62%. At the last count, the numbers of UK shoppers using mobile for purchase was in the mid-20%, and that figure is doubling not on a year-on-year basis, but quarterly. When it comes to shopping, the Koreans are ahead of us but only just, as retailers here are only too aware.

We’ve just carried out research among 1,000 UK smartphone owners and the results back that up, 42% of them use their mobile to shop. Further insight reveals that 54% consider it ‘easy’ to buy something on their phone, 55% use their phones while in-store (mainly to compare prices or research product information) and half of them considered their smartphone a device for shopping right from when they first bought it.

The picture underlines the fact that the UK could very soon be as mobile shopping friendly as South Korea, considered by many to be the most dynamic technology market in the world. Fast adoption of 4G and in-store Wi-Fi opportunities will drive this and offer retailers the opportunity to engage with shoppers in new ways, especially when nearly three-quarters of respondents, 70%, say they would be more likely to shop with a given retailer more often if they had its app on their smartphone, while a similar percentage, 72%, would be more likely to revisit a store if it sent personalised promotions and coupons to their mobile.

We’re calling this emerging breed of smartphone-focused shoppers the ‘agile consumers’, and retailers had better be ready for them. For one, people now have access to endless information to answer any questions they might have and that means they’re making more educated choices about brands and products. It also means that any retailer wanting to be truly omnichannel has to deliver a shopping experience that is three things: everywhere, instant and personal.

So what should retailers be doing about this, for 2014 and beyond?

Firstly, mobile will be all about searching, shopping and sharing. Half of the people who bought smartphones in 2013 considered it a retail device and that number will only increase as time goes on. A direct result will be the increased use of mobile to purchase.

Secondly, retailers will have to start to realign their loyalty, promotion and even payments through the mobile device. Being on every smart phone will soon be as important as being in every community because the mobile enables us to shop everywhere and that includes in-store.

Emart, for example, the largest retailer in South Korea, enabled shoppers to locate the best offers in-store with their smartphones, they just set their phones into a shopping trolley and were navigated to the aisle containing the product they were after. Smartphones genuinely enhanced the in-store experience.

Done right, mobile presents an amazing opportunity for UK retail. Assuming, as I noted before, that it’s everywhere, instant and personal and that retailers understand and satisfy the agile consumer.


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