RSR Research: Mobile – When Words and Actions Don’t Line Up

Feb 25, 2013

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

When we recently asked retailers to rate what role mobile plays in the retail experience, their top-rated response was that mobile’s primary ability is to enhance the overall value of the brand.

The survey was part of our The Impact of Mobile in Retail study and RSR believes enhancing the overall brand is precisely how retailers should be viewing the tremendous value that new mobile technologies afford.

Unfortunately, much of what retailers share in the remainder of the report — their actions — does not line up with this purpose. Instead, many of the findings of this research are in closer alignment to the second-most popular choice to the question: that the current purpose of a mobile strategy is to serve merely as an extension of the existing e-commerce offering.

For instance, 52 percent of retailers responding to the survey believe that mobile devices are used — at any point along the myriad paths-to-purchase modern consumers travel — less than 25 percent of the time. Only 16 percent believe they are used more than half the time.

RSR strongly believes that these numbers are very low compared to the reality of mobile’s current role in the consumer’s paths-to-purchase. While it is difficult to quote precise numbers on just how frequently consumers enlist their personal mobile devices during the shopping process (including product research, reviews, availability, social network feedback and price comparisons), multiple quantitative consumer studies have gauged consumer mobile-device use.

One extensive global study from IBM last year showed that 45 percent of consumers use two or more technologies to shop (usually a combination of PC-based internet search and mobile). Seventy one percent were willing to shop digitally and 85 percent agreed social networking can save shopping time by allowing them to connect and get recommendations from their peers.

Another reality disconnect we believe arrived when we asked about their store-based staff’s ability to service the new mobile-empowered consumer in stores. The most common retailer response is that it’s not yet an issue. Again, we disagree.

For those retailers who do agree that their employees are struggling to meet the needs of newly-empowered shoppers, it is worth noting the differences in how they plan to make their store associates more valuable to consumers: the best performers (Retail Winners), are more likely to provide mobile devices to store and department managers than competitors with average or lagging sales (26 percent to 16 percent).

Do retailers see mobile as an extension of e-commerce? What are the most effective ways for retailers to meet the challenges posed by mobile-informed shoppers?

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13 Comments on "RSR Research: Mobile – When Words and Actions Don’t Line Up"

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Max Goldberg

Mobile is more than simply an extension of ecommerce. It is a platform to empower consumers with information, opinions and product comparisons. Retailers need to empower employees to deal with mobile. This can be as simple as confirming information to product ordering and price matching.

Mobile makes consumers feel empowered. Retail can either accept this and work with consumers or can pretend it’s not an issue and see sales suffer.

Ralph Jacobson

Thanks, Steve, for referencing the global IBM Study on this topic. We did, in fact, find a strong desire of consumers in virtually every developed country, and an accelerated rise of interest in emerging areas, to leverage the potential of mobile.

Retailers, and CPG companies need to have valuable content first of all, and the retailers then must employ knowledgeable store staff to intelligently service the informed shoppers. Regardless of the products sold, retailers need “full-time” focus on delivering the mobile “promise” at their stores. Shoppers get disappointed too often, and never mention it to store staff, so the retailer may often have no idea that their mobile strategy is missing the mark.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Retailers can not develop a good strategy to meet the needs of mobile-enhanced consumers unless they have a realistic view of how consumers use mobile devices. Basing a strategy on how retailers think consumers use mobile devices is not a good strategy. They also need to see possibilities for how their employees could use mobile devices. There are a lot of possibilities, but strategies need to be based on a realistic assessment of how consumers are currently using mobile technology combines with a vision for how mobile technology could be used by their employees and customers.

Ryan Mathews

I think the answer to the question as posed is “Yes,” but I don’t think that’s the right answer.

As I’ve said many times, the customer is not thinking in terms of channels and effective retailers ought to think like their customers. In the same way that social media data should be integrated into all aspects of operations and not segregated into some institutional silo, mobile ought to be integrated into mainstream discussions as a consumer choice, not a “special case” channel.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Paul R. Schottmiller
4 years 8 months ago

Part of the issue here is retailers are focused too much on the device and providing/cost justifying the device. The device strategy for the associates needs to be like it is for the customers—BYOD (bring your own device). The retailer needs to focus on connectivity and applications for both their customers and associates.

Cathy Hotka

The purpose of mobile in retail is not to have phones or tablets in the store—it’s having a plan for how those devices will provide competitive advantage in the new shopping environment. Retailers are still finding their way here. Strategy is going to include empowering sales associates to make decisions in order to make the sale. Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Lee Kent

It all goes back to understanding what your customers expectations are and what ‘services’ the customer wants to receive in the store. I may be an informed customer, but perhaps I have a few additional questions about the product before I buy. The store needs to address this type of customer and provide that expertise through the use of mobile, kiosks, product expertise, etc. Or maybe I’ve already checked and I know the product is in the store but I just need to find it. These indicate ways that a brand can enhance its value, and that after all is what retailers said they wanted.

Herb Sorensen

Alexander Pope wisely advised, “Be not the first by whom the new is tried; Nor yet the last, to lay the old aside.”

I’m 100% with RSR on where this thing is going, but believe exaggerating where it has gotten to at this point will not stimulate progress, but rather will impede it. I’m with the slow and plodding retailers on this, and believe that until the mobile wallet and mobile checkout are more seamlessly integrated in the current shopping experience, mobile will remain an internet extension—not integral to bricks-and-mortar.

Brian Numainville

It is key to realize that use of mobile during the shopping trip isn’t a separate activity that happens in a void. It is part of the seamless nature of consumer behavior today, whether shopping, researching a purchase, or informing others about the service received (or not received) during a visit. Retailers can either embrace this or be left behind by those who do.

Kai Clarke

No. Mobile-informed shoppers do not represent the majority of the shoppers in the traditional retail environments. Consequently, I agree with the majority of retailers who do not see mobile as an extension of e-commerce. Mobile is still in its infancy. It does not offer a tried, true (and proven) medium through which a message can be sent, retained and measured. Consequently, it offers little in the way of finite marketing, or even as an alternate marketing channel.

gordon arnold
The perspective of mobile being an extension of e-commerce is owned by many of today’s retail executives. This vision will no doubt be the reason many of their careers end abruptly. The smartphone is a 21st century communication device with enhanced abilities which include some limited purchase capabilities that “must” be allowed and supported by a vendor/retailer’s host system along with one or more third party vendors as in credit companies and shippers. That said it is much more important for the retailer to build and support an e-commerce capability within the confines of the company’s IT enterprise system. Properly aligning the needed vendors required to complete any sale is, for the vast majority of complex transactions, a task beyond the capabilities and design of a smart phone. Another consideration for the retail industry to keep in sight is secure inquiry from the prospect. Since there are only a few smartphones with any reliable security the companies that must maintain the advantage of non disclosure will create and enforce limited wireless communications regarding the company’s planed purchases. When discretion is a part of vendor selection ease of information access is avoided. For these reasons retailers, especially large retailers should commit… Read more »
James Tenser

So we are answering the challenge of mobile-empowered shoppers by handing mobile devices to employees?

Do we think there is a mobile-device arms race underway between shoppers and retailers? No wonder words and actions don’t line up!

Let’s remember that all retailing is e-retailing. This was true before smartphones or tablets and it’s still true now. Shoppers will use whatever technologies are available to make their lives a little more successful. That includes reading glasses, automobiles, social networking and apps—in whatever combinations suit them at each shopping occasion.

I think enabling store employees with mobile technology has virtually nothing to do with mobile technology use by shoppers. The applications are distinct and separate, as are the objectives.

Once again we seem to be confronting a problem of vocabulary masquerading as strategy. I say we re-set the discussion and focus on shopper insights, not devices.

Vahe Katros

Smart shoppers can help us sell and serve better. Challenged shoppers can help even more. Mobile is a great platform to help in this process.


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