Is product discovery now the biggest pain point for mobile buys?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Apr 12, 2018
Tom Ryan

A new study has found that product discovery has leaped ahead of payment complexities as the leading inhibitor holding back mobile purchases.

According to a survey of 4,000 consumers in the U.S. and U.K. from Qubit, a provider of mobile product discovery solutions, 48 percent either agree or strongly agree that searching and buying products directly from a brand’s mobile website is frustrating,

Asked what would encourage consumers to make a purchase on their phone, the leading response was, “If there was a faster or easier browsing experience,” agreed to by 47 percent. That was followed by, “If finding exactly what I wanted was easier,” 44 percent; and, “If discovering new products that I liked was easier,” 35 percent.

Only one-third agreed they would be encouraged to make a purchase if making payments was easier.

In the report, Qubit wrote that new payment solutions and integrated mobile wallets have taken much of the pain out of the mobile checkout process, but the firm also said the evolution of shopping behavior on mobile is partly the reason.

A separate analysis of 1.2 billion e-commerce journeys across the Qubit platform showed consumers are more engaged on mobile than on computers in the discovery phase of the shopping journey. However, nearly 28 percent fewer people made it from selection stage to the checkout phase when using a mobile device.

With such a wide array of products to sort through, Qubit recommends using artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to bring more relevancy to discovery. The firm estimates that AI-powered discovery helps customers find 2.25 times more products, making them 80 percent more likely to buy.

“Netflix recommendations, a Spotify playlist, or the Instagram feed provide a model for how people expect to discover on mobile,” said Simon Jaffery, product director at Qubit, in a statement. “All of these are AI-powered, based on consumer preferences, context and intent.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning to aid product discovery on smartphones? What other solutions might help? Will browsing and discovery always be more difficult when shopping on mobile devices versus computers and tablets?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"But when I want to really browse I opt to use my computer rather than my phone because it's just a much richer experience."
"As the US market catches up to Asia’s mobile prowess, the actual and perceived cosumer experience will improve. Of course, AI will accelerate this..."
"...to really make discovery on the small screens easier, I think we need to focus on the experience, not the intelligence."

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27 Comments on "Is product discovery now the biggest pain point for mobile buys?"


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Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Will AI make product discovery on a smartphone easier? Yes. Mobile is still about being efficient, due to the smaller screen format. However, as consumers get used to purchasing more and more on their smartphones, retailers and tech vendors have to keep working on refining this sales channel’s capabilities. Now think about Google Home. The same virtual assistant is on your smartphone (or Alexa, or Siri … ). Consumers will start using more voice/mobile-combined commerce to improve the experience on both. Retailers, get ready for your customers — if you aren’t already there!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I honestly don’t see why discovery is such a problem. Rendering products in a way that shows you all their features on a small screen is a problem, and that’s not going away until we find a way to create bigger images (treating the phone like a projector, sort of).

I’m starting to feel like AI is the latest magic bullet for everything, which it’s not. It feels like killing an ant with an elephant gun in this case.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
I sometimes find myself putting off researching a purchase because I don’t have my laptop in front of me. There are some things I’m willing to buy on my mobile because I know exactly what I want and there aren’t a lot of choices to wade through to find it. But when I want to really browse — like when buying shoes for example — I opt to use my computer rather than my phone because it’s just a much richer experience. I think AI can help streamline selection, but I would caution against forcing consumers to use it. Just because they’re on mobile doesn’t mean they want an enormous amount of hand-holding (never assume!). When I’m in “browsing” mode, I don’t want to feel like someone (or some technology) has already down-selected my choices for me, without any direct input. That’s part of why I go to the desktop experience in the first place, because I can see so many more options and feel good that I have explored all of the options that… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

My reply came in late, but you can see that we’re on the same wave length (or farther away from the much younger generation)…

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

The first step is in the website design. You have to build with a mobile-first flow. There are still many high-volume websites that are not even responsive to different screen sizes. Not only does this hold you back in Google search, but it is most of the problem uncovered by Qubit.

AI can be powerful for product discovery, but it also has its limitations. Because it is learning from past behaviors, it is not great at anticipating what you may be looking for outside of a norm.

That said, a website with mobile-first design flow with AI capabilities and several one-click payment options will certainly improve conversions and customer experience.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I fail to see how AI is a solution to this issue; it seems rather a glib idea without much thought behind it.

That said, I do agree that discovery on a mobile can be frustrating. Oftentimes, websites are not properly optimized for mobile, and sometimes it can be difficult to explore options and see products in detail.

That said, mobile not converting to sales is not always a problem. People sometimes use mobile to do quick searches or price checks and then go on to buy via another device or channel at a later time.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

The problem is a “discovery” mentality. Discovery = search, like Columbus looking for America. Fortunately, Columbus had sensory cues to help him find America. This situation is not funny, could have been solved years ago but those in the role of selecting new technologies or funding new technologies don’t get it! Shoppers don’t want to spend hours in discovery especially on a mobile device. The solution? Preference-match people to products through the filter of individual human preference of fit, look and feel.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Columbus wasn’t looking for, but stumbled onto America. That’s like me searching for a TV and winding up buying a pair of slacks. It was Amerigo Vespucci who figured out what Columbus had really done (discovered a new continent). That IS funny.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

You are so right. Thanks for the humor! How long did it take Columbus to stumble upon America? A long time. Hence, low conversion on a mobile device, not to mention returns. Just like Amerigo discovered what already existed {America} possibly retailers will discover what already exists to solve the pain of mobile shopping — preference-based personalization.

Scott Norris
Guest

“Stumble-upon marketing” is exactly what I call brick-and-mortar product discovery, and it’s where all the magic happens. How are you going to find a product category you never knew existed but you absolutely need? Merchant websites are great for giving you what you explicitly ask for, but are horrible at showing you what you didn’t know about (even Netflix and especially Amazon.)

When I ran an office-supply/education-supply/art-supply store, my best nights were Friday and Saturday, because the line to get into the restaurant down the mall backed up to my store entrance, and people wandered around with time to kill. Whenever I heard, “I didn’t know this was a thing; my daughter needs it!” I knew I’d already made a sale — and I set up my endcaps and wall displays to give more visibility to those kinds of products.

Can’t see that on Staples.com or Target.com because they don’t know what you as a shopper don’t know….

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I see we’re still having fun with this one…

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Yes, this is fun … indeed we are having fun … Ok, I was referring to products that are purchased based on human emotion and individual sensory and aesthetic preferences like clothes, home furnishings, cars, homes, art, etc. Especially clothes, totally a 3 D sensory experience of fit, look and feel. Very difficult to sort through 100s of apparel products and know what will match your fit, look and feel preferences. Sure discovery is fun. This conversation is in regard to upping online conversion, reducing the warehouse in and out of returns and generally making a customer happy! OK, off the soapbox!

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Time and trust are the gifts that consumers give while shopping. But the transition from traffic to conversion is the gift of retailers. All attributes break down when there are frustrations, poor search outcomes, lack of credible information or biased reviews. Diligence on continuously enhancing the mobile experience while better integrating this activity into the shopper journey will contribute to the ongoing development of mobile whether it is a stand-alone experience or part of the store visit.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
AI and ML could make product discovery easier, but it all depends on the data stream that feeds them and how well the algorithms perform. I way over-index in terms of buying books from Amazon, for example, but their recommendations are rarely on the mark. Best recent example, I bought a book of literary criticism of William Burroughs and my recommendation box was flooded with LGBTQ titles. So in this case the AI engine was making it harder for me to find what I wanted because it recognized Burroughs as a gay author rather than an experimental prose writer. So, getting that little kink ironed out is he first hurdle. As to the device question, the older the eyes the larger the screen needed to be effective for starters. Even young people with 20/20 vision may need a larger phone screen to get the perspective needed to easily navigate a page. But phones are already almost too large to be convenient. It really is an engineering problem as much as an issue of website architecture,… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Huh. It’s no surprise that product discovery is hard on mobile. In fact, product discovery is all online shopping’s weakness — much less on the tiniest of screens.

What retailers should pay attention to is that the only possible response today to the problem is the one Qubit is offering … and it’s one that offers only tiny advantages. A classic case of a hammer being the only tool available so it’s recommended for tightening nuts.

At core, all these AI-based promises are using complicated solutions to attempt to solve a complex problem. And as Rick Nason writes in his book about complexity, it can’t work … ever.

Retailers need, instead, to use mobile for what it’s good at — not what it’s bad at.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

So, let me understand this. “A provider of mobile product discovery solutions” conducted a survey that found, “product discovery has leaped ahead of payment complexities as the leading inhibitor holding back mobile purchases.” Hmm. OK.

Those findings notwithstanding, AI is already helping shoppers find the right products and has been for a few years, with retailers like 1-800-Flowers, Staples and others. These technologies are digging deep into complex product assortments to help find those slower-moving, less promoted items that a LIVE call center agent may not see.

And now the power of true machine learning will be available via mobile devices. So imagine fully-featured AI technologies in the palm of your hand. That’s going to be the next step in really personalizing the shopping experience.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

With information on previous purchases, AI can make recommendations for similar products. However, the algorithms get much more complex when consumers are searching for new products or products in different categories. The AI tool may need to ask questions to provide better direction. That decision tree would become incredibly complex very quickly. Complex decision making and small screens create a formidable challenge when searching for new products.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust

The reality is that smartphones will NEVER play a significant role (more than a few percentage points) in the FMCG/CPG space. Nowhere is Neale Martin’s sage observation from “Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore” more appropriate.

It has been reported that Clive Humby commented on the deployment of kiosks in supermarkets, “It won’t work. It’s not CUSTOMARY to the shoppers.” That hasn’t kept hundreds of millions from being wasted since the turn of the century in getting hand-held devices to be the Holy Grail. They are not, and are unlikely to be in our life-times, if ever. But there ARE niches! 😉

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

One can’t compare selecting movies from Netflix to finding a dress somewhere online. AI and machine learning will work in specific destinations, where the customer may have a true purchase history. The next question is: why do I want to buy a dress while I am on my phone? I could see buying last-minute theater tickets while I am on my smartphone. Certain online purchase excursions are much easier done from a desktop or tablet (because of the bigger screen, for one).

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I think AI has a long way to go before it truly enhances discovery — whether on a phone or a desktop screen. And to really make discovery on the small screens easier, I think we need to focus on the experience, not the intelligence. If we invest in understanding how users discover and maximizing the experience within the capabilities (and constraints) of the small screens, we can increase conversion rates without waiting (and waiting) for AI to get there — if it ever will. Then when the intelligence improves, the experience will be improved. But looking to AI as a panacea for discovery is misguided, at best, in my opinion.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Unless you are using phonetab doing product search on a phone is a very frustrating experience. Even then the screen is too small, and trying to enlarge the image of the item means you can’t see the other information, etc. Working on a PC with a large monitor is a far easier experience. AI may be able to makes the searching process easier but I don’t foresee it ever approaching the ease of doing the same search on a PC with a large screen.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust

Good points. I have said before that bricks has 2 unassailable advantages — the 360 experience in the store; and immediacy of getting what you are buying, not at some time even soon, but RIGHT NOW, in your hand. But then online has 2 unassailable advantages — the infinite LONG TAIL; an algorithmic SELLING process. See: Selling Like Amazon… in Bricks & Mortar Stores! I say “unassailable advantages,” but online’s algorithmic selling is only unassailable because bricks don’t even understand the problem they are up against.

We’ll see lots more bankruptcies, and costly thrashing about, BECAUSE the 100 year old mindset that has served so well for so long, calls for something more than costly tweaking.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

AI will clearly help the efficiency and effectiveness of mobile shopping customer experiences. It is interesting to note that in China, mobile shopping does not have such a challenge with customer experience. This is due to 2 factors: Consumers in China grew up primarily using mobile vs. desktop computing, and as such, brands and retailers there have been leaders in developing for the mobile platform vs. desktop. Even before AI, the experience on Taobao, TMall, JD.com and others has always been quite good. As the US market catches up to Asia’s mobile prowess, the actual and perceived cosumer experience will improve. Of course, AI will accelerate this for the US market.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
The use of mobile apps is significantly higher amongst younger people and Generation Z users will be brought up on mobile shopping. In traditional retailing it is desirable to get customers to “walk the shop” and not just go in and buy the exact items they want; this increases sales. With mobile and online shopping, the suggested items can give the same ability. Will we start to see online retail follow a similar pattern to traditional retail where huge superstores with thousands of items become too time consuming, confusing and inconvenient for consumers and specialists with a smaller more focused range start to gain traction? AI will undoubtedly improve this performance providing users with an easier experience and the retailer with increased sales per visit. What has to be cautioned against is using AI to pre-judge customer desires, which could alienate the customers if they think they are being manipulated. However, this technology can be used very effectively to manage not only sales of particular lines, if overstocked, but also the margin mix by more… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Part of the problem here is trying to generalize poor discovery experiences on mobile across all products and all types of search. As a consumer, how you search for consumable media, such as on Netflix or iTunes, is very different than searching for a pair of pants. In fact, if the survey takers had asked me about discovery I would tell them that my biggest frustration on mobile is not in trying to narrow my selection down to one, but in trying to increase the number of product choices shown in any search in a way that makes sense. It’s much easier, and richer on a desktop browser than on a mobile app for many product types. Focusing on AI as the magic solution to mobile discovery assumes the problem lies in narrowing down the choices, not finding the choices in the first place. You could easily make an argument that this problem exists for online shopping in all forms. In the end, whoever said that an Amazon-style search result showing 100 matches in a… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust
Much product discovery happens before the digital shopper even opens the shopping app — via conventional media, social media, research and word of mouth. AI can drive message personalization in media and assortment personalization in the digital store, but it still very early days. A key limitation IMO is the linear nature of shopping on a screen. (Doesn’t matter much if its a mobile or a desktop screen.) You can only evaluate one item at a time — not scan a rack full of suits or dresses, or a wall of TV screens, or an aisle of arts & crafts items, or a rack of garden tools. An AI driven online merchandising system will ideally present the most likely items first, based on things the system knows about the individual and/or others resembling them. But is that really “discovery”? Seems more like prescriptive selling to me. Useful when the shopper has an objective in mind, but not really a browsing experience. Digital shopping has displaced and will continue to displace a large number of purchasing… Read more »
Alex Levashov
Guest

Lot of good points already posted there; I’ll add my 5 cents.

Product discovery is very different from category to category. Compare for example buying a movie ticket, a dress, a laptop and a detergent. They have rather different patterns. In some cases the discovery barely exists (a detergent) in others it may be pretty long and involved (a laptop or expensive dress for special occasion). It’s also more rational and based on logic (a laptop) and emotional/visual (a dress).

I think that there is a possibility to involve AI in the process, but it is extremely hard — if possible at all — to make a kind of universal AI that helps you to discover everything from laptops to designer shoes.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"But when I want to really browse I opt to use my computer rather than my phone because it's just a much richer experience."
"As the US market catches up to Asia’s mobile prowess, the actual and perceived cosumer experience will improve. Of course, AI will accelerate this..."
"...to really make discovery on the small screens easier, I think we need to focus on the experience, not the intelligence."

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