Merchants adopt a ‘mobile first’ mindset

Jan 30, 2014

Mobile first. That’s the rallying cry for retailers looking to keep pace with the growing number of shoppers using mobile devices, according to the 2014 Research State of Retailing Online report.

According to the research, 53 percent of retailers identify mobile as their top priority with "responsive design, mobile site optimization, and tablet redesign" as key areas of focus.

"Retailers grew their digital business with impressive strength in 2013, reflecting their laser focus on improving the customer experience across all of their channels, striving for a ‘mobile first’ mindset that will be a key driver in all business decisions," said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of, in a statement. "In 2014, they will continue investing to further their relationships with customers, exploring everything from personalization and site usability to all things mobile."

Twenty-one percent of retailers’ online revenue last year came from consumers using either a smartphone or tablet to make a purchase. Revenue from using smartphones grew 113 percent over 2012. Tablet revenues were up 86 percent over the previous year.

While usability and conversion rates remain high on retailers’ priority lists, this year will see increased emphasis on customer relationship management (CRM) and loyalty. Repeat shoppers drove 51 percent of web revenues for the retailers participating in the survey. Sixty-three percent of retailers said repeat customers drove more sales last year than they did in 2012.

Among the areas of greater emphasis in 2014 will be personalization and changes to make it easier for consumers to use sites with their mobile devices.

"Online retailers have proven themselves to be resourceful, resilient, and tenacious, — thriving in spite of fluctuations in the economy," said Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. "But to continue building on this story of growth, retailers should begin to focus on new areas of opportunity in 2014, such as improving mobile conversion rates and taking an omni-channel-centric business approach."

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for retailers to improve their mobile marketing and mobile commerce efforts? Do you agree mobile should be a top priority for most retailers in 2014?

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15 Comments on "Merchants adopt a ‘mobile first’ mindset"

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Bill Davis

Tie it more to in store location as stores are generally blind to the fact that someone holding one of their loyalty cards has entered their store until they actually go to the register.

Right now retailers are using a shotgun approach when they need to evolve to using a rifle to tailor their marketing to a consumer’s specific needs. The 1 to 1 future is now being enabled.

Mohamed Amer

Mobile should be a top priority for most retailers this year given how consumers purchase goods and services. The direction is unequivocally up.

The greatest opportunity for retailers to improve their mobile conversion rate is through in-store personalization. Once a retailer gets a customer into their physical or online store they must turn that experience into something that’s all about me – a very specific shopper in context of my own unique needs and wants. The online experience is far ahead of the in-store one in that regard and it raises the bar on consumer expectations when in the store.

Mobile can be a retailer’s superhero if imagined properly with today’s existing technology. It can help them deliver on true in-store personalization that combines historical consumer information and the critical contextual signals that make the engagement personal, relevant and timely versus invasive and spammy.

Marge Laney
3 years 7 months ago

Proliferation of in-store mobile devices in the hands of associates offers a great way to enable the customer to have a true omni-channel experience with a retailer. Whether it’s online in or in-store out, mobile gives the customer access to the retailer how and when they want to connect.

Arming associates with devices to inform, service, and fulfill gives customers what they want when they want it. If I am in a fitting room and I need a size that’s not in stock, enabling the associate to be able to order the item in the correct size at the fitting room and have it delivered increases conversion and builds loyalty.

Likewise, if I’m at home and see something online I’d like to try on in-store, having a connection directly to my local store associate to pull and hold for my visit to the store is powerful.

Current online mobile technology effectively and efficiently services customers in a self-guided path to purchase. The true opportunity for mobile is to encourage and enhance personal in-store connections between associates and their customers.

Max Goldberg

Retailers need to improve how they present their stores on mobile devices. Mobile sites and apps need to be optimized to make search, shipping and check out easier.

That said, retailers should focus on omni-channel as their top priority. Consumers want a seamless shopping experience. The price online should be the price in-store and visa versa. Sales associates should be empowered with mobile devices to handle customer questions and alleviate brick and mortar out of stock situations.

By focusing on customer experience, both in and out of store, retailers can make the shopping experience smoother and easier. And in the end, isn’t that a customer’s top priority?

Todd Sherman
Todd Sherman
3 years 7 months ago
First, tablets and smartphones should not be grouped together under the broad heading of “mobile.” Sure, the devices look like they’re related (because they are flat, have touchscreen interfaces, etc.) but they are used in profoundly different ways. Tablets are, for the most part, PC replacements. Smartphones are something altogether new. Grouping them together is a disservice to the reader and provides little, or at best misleading, actionable insight. I strongly encourage market analysts to completely separate smartphones and tablets into two different categories in their reports. (I’ll know a tablet is really a mobile device when I see a jogger running with one.) Second, “mobile first” is the right direction but – and related to the first point – shoppers’ and retailers’ goals and desired experiences are different for smartphones and tablets. “Responsive design” has an evolving definition but it generally means the same experience tailored for presentation on the different devices. The real opportunity is to create the most valuable and effective experience for each device. In that way, “mobile first” is a good approach to get away from “PC first” but needs to be taken a few steps further to understand the different “mobile” devices and their… Read more »
Nikki Baird

Relevancy to the store shopping experience. Retailers need to be ready and able to assist when a consumer pulls out her phone, because to me that will almost always be a sign of a customer service failure in the store – that a consumer feels the need to look beyond what’s in front of her for help. If retailers aren’t going to staff enough employees to prevent that need, then having a highly relevant mobile assistive shopping experience – something that focuses on enabling in-store, instead of on enabling mCommerce – will be crucial.

But I think the report goes beyond the mobile opportunity. The idea of mobile first as a design philosophy is much bigger than that – and all UI’s, whether desktop, tablet, or phone, should benefit from more retailers exercising that philosophy.

Gib Bassett

As a former mobile marketing guy, I will say focusing on mobile to the exclusion of the overall customer experience will be a mistake a lot of retailers will probably make in 2014.

So much press today suggests retailers need to focus on creating better experiences for their customers/shoppers, so understanding customers on a one-to-one basis, how they browse and research, how they share information, and ultimately how they prefer to transact seems foundational insights necessary to fuel an overall customer engagement strategy.

This week, a Deloitte webinar described an “indifferent consumer” who doesn’t really care whether they buy in a store or online, and it could comprise a large proportion of a retailer’s customers. To me that suggests a challenge to understanding how to best serve this type of customer and provide the best experience which is probably some combination of engagement in-home, on the go, in the store and online.

Ralph Jacobson

There is no question that mobile should be a top priority for 2014. My employer, IBM, has made it one of its key initiatives across ALL industries, not just retail and CPG. Around the globe, shoppers are “skipping” the PC phase and going direct to mobile platforms. This is accelerating mobile adoption globally. Merchants must understand the implications and dive into their mobile strategy execution this year.

Martin Mehalchin

Yes, responsive design is a must from a web design perspective. However, I’m afraid some retailers will chase mobile as the latest trend and lose sight of some basics. First, keeping the connection to the customer so you can understand how their shopping behavior is evolving.

Todd Sherman is spot on that tablets are more of an in home replacement for PCs and less a true “mobile device.” Major digital initiatives should be informed by an understanding of how the specific retailers customers are using tablets and whether or not they use smartphones to transact, or if the phone is just used for quick reference or product research on the go.

Second, don’t forget about your stores. Think about how your digital initiatives can enhance the in-store experience and how in-store marketing can be used to drive more customers to become multi-channel shoppers with you instead of in-store with you and online with a competitor.

Vahe Katros

The greatest opportunity is to design in-, location-aware features, but that is probably a 2015 deliverable with pilots in the 2014 holiday season.

The act of building this capability will force retailers to understand the shopper experience intimately, frame by frame, behavioral/motivation segment by segment. This will flesh out the must haves and the wish list. But how will this get done?

What new skills, tools, methods and organizations will be needed to do this? No doubt, the future is already here, it is just poorly distributed. That means the analysts and consultants (and trade associations) should have a very good year inserted themselves in the learning loop.

When everyone is looking for gold, sell picks and shovels.

Peter Charness

Every shopper checks their mobile phone many times throughout the day, or frankly many times per hour. Compare that with the percentage who see and remember TV ads, newspaper inserts, billboards,or listen to you during radio time. Mobile first? Only if you want to reach your customer where your customer is waiting to hear from you.

Kai Clarke

Yes. Everyone seems to have a mobile smartphone for their phones, and with basically 2 major platforms, it should be easy to optimize a website for mobile use, and maximize it to have a look and feel that is mobile friendly. Why wouldn’t you do this?

Shilpa Rao

Absolutely, mobile should be the top priority. Retailers need to focus on the experience, making products easy to search for and buy on a mobile device.

Dan Frechtling

This is a great topic, especially since RetailWire was an early mobile-first practitioner. Yet retailers also need to consider the journey customers take to get to their mobile sites. Successful mobile sites will also be:

  • Fast loading. Up to half of customers abandon a site that takes more than 5 seconds to load. Most bail within 7-10 seconds.
  • Product catalog enabled. Mobile customers are task oriented and want to be able to find a specific product, not just features. This is true on the go and in-store (endless aisles). This requires custom development.
  • Campaign-ready. Nearly two-thirds of email and half of searches are on mobile devices. Mobile sites improve response of mobile email engagement.
  • Search optimized. Customers want to find what they’re looking for on the first page of results. Responsive design is favored by Google, as a part of a plan that includes citations, social activity and other SEO tactics.

These points remind us of the short patience of mobile shoppers and the importance of understanding the path they take to mobile sites

Caroline Clarke
Caroline Clarke
3 years 7 months ago

The greatest opportunity is to provide customers with the information, service and products they need across any touchpoint – real or digital. Ensure the experience is consistently good, that the information you have makes it easier for them to shop (not creepy), and recognise them through appropriate personalisation.


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