By Andy Tudor, Head of Multichannel Solutions, Aurora Client Services - Retail Assist
ME commerce is a term recently coined to describe the coming together of mobile and e-commerce. The ethos is simple: virtual shopping is no longer limited to sitting in front of a PC or laptop, browsing and buying from retail sites, an activity traditionally referred to as e-commerce. With the advances of mobile/smartphone technology, ME commerce empowers consumers to make decisions to buy from multichannel retailers, wherever and however they choose. The retailer's challenge - and opportunity - is to recognise that ME commerce is about ME, the consumer, and MY ability to be more demanding and shop 'smarter'.
We live in a world where channels are multiplying and integrating at an impressive rate, so the retailer's approach to underpinning an ME commerce offer is important. It is predicted that by 2014 there will be more mobile users than PC users. Mobility opens up a new dimension to retail, one which will fast become the norm if the 2014 statistic holds true. So how does the retailer adapt to this omnipresent channel of mobile commerce?
Most users carry mobile phones wherever they go. In fact, according to a Pew study conducted last year, two thirds of adults sleep with their mobile phone next to their bed. Among 'millennials' (young people aged 18 to 29), this figure rises to 90%. The Pew research further reveals that adults who use text messaging receive an average of 10 texts a day, rising to 50 a day in the case of most teenagers.
The potential for retailers to connect with consumers through mobile devices is significant. However, 'with great power comes great responsibility'. Retailers would be well advised not to annoy consumers with irrelevant marketing to their mobile phones or attempt to interact with them at inconvenient times. When used correctly, the immediacy of the mobile channel brings benefits to seller and purchaser alike; consumers gain access to the goods they want when they want, and retailers enjoy sales they would not have generated in the past.
There has been much debate about whether mobile commerce generates incremental sales or simply cannibalises existing sales. For consumers who are 'glued' to their mobile devices, facilities such as free Wi-Fi instore can encourage them to shop there and then. This may sound strange after all, why would you want to order something online if it was there in front of you? Take the case of an item of clothing not being available in the required size instore; how much better it is to order it online without leaving the store than go home and perhaps forget to make the purchase.
It's important to note too that a mobile phone is not only a tool for shopping 'on the go'. It's also a useful means for consumer and retailer alike to learn more about a product, whether that be scanning a barcode in store to get rich media product content sent to a phone, or searching the internet by phone whilst on the high street to find out which shop is holding stock.
Many consumers have preferred shopping channels. I, for example, prefer not to shop in-store but to order online from the comfort of my own home. My wife has a different approach. She enjoys the high street experience, browsing in several shops before making a purchasing decision.
Retailers need to accept that, whilst my wife and I are by no means exceptions to the rule, there is an important subset of consumers who are channel-agnostic. These customers are indifferent to the channel they use but do want to engage with the product and the service the retailer provides. In 2005, 97% of the consumers surveyed by the eCommerce Times said that they expected a channel-agnostic customer experience. I wager this percentage will have increased over the past seven years.
Even stronger than our preference for certain channels is our emotional attachment to brands, particularly those in the fashion sector. To capitalise on this, retailers should enable consumers to engage positively with their brands, irrespective of the channels they decide to use, in a way that is well managed and consistent throughout. Even though it is calculated that a consumer who shops across multiple channels is up to four times more valuable in monetary terms than one who shops via a single channel, creating a universal consumer experience remains of paramount importance to all retailers.
As retailers introduce multiple shopping channels, they should factor in the consumer's ability to influence brand identity positively and negatively. They have much to gain from mapping consumer interaction with each channel to market, putting in place support functions that give real-time visibility of cross-channel consumer interaction, and building a mechanism to capture feedback at the point of purchase.
At the end of the day, smart retailers will entice us to interact with their brands in many new ways. They may have already created a profile of your previous brand contact and purchasing habits. Having made a purchase in a 'bricks and mortar store', you may now have received an invitation on your mobile phone to download the retailer's smartphone app' or been directed to their mobile-optimised website. A friend's Facebook profile may have prompted you to click through to a retailer's profile page, where you found yourself able to purchase from within the social media site. In short, you may without knowing it already be part of an online community which has a common loyalty to certain brands.
To win our custom, retailers must evolve their IT strategy from ''multiple channels' to 'multichannel', by providing consumers with the same destination, no matter what vehicle the consumer uses to reach it.