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This Just In: Online Retail Customers are Disappearing at an Alarming Rate…

Steve ManattJanuary 26, 2015

I make no apologies for starting this post by referencing a couple exciting stats on mobile apps.  In 2014, mobile apps accounted for 42.4% of mobile sales according to The 2015 Mobile 500 data and that mobile sales by 500 of the world’s leading retailers in mobile commerce are expected to reach $84 billion by the end of 2014, up by 80% from $47 billion in 2013 (they are still counting).  Those are some huge numbers!

So what does this mean to retailers?  Well, to those that are contributing to mobile commerce sales, hooray!  You are the few and far between that have discovered how to properly leverage the most connected marketing channel that has existed.  And to those who are still trying to figure it out, it’s time to get serious or go home!  I am not suggesting that you drop everything and shut down your brick-and-mortar stores just to focus on mobile. However, I am strongly insinuating that retail mobile apps are on the rise and if you are one of those retailers that is not properly leveraging this channel, now is your time!

It’s important to note that even if you are not a retailer you can most certainly benefit from understanding how to utilize mobile applications to create a unique, engaging shopping experience and maintain a positive, on-going relationship with your consumer.  Below are some concepts to keep in mind when exploring the mobile app space.

1. Customer Centricity- Many companies believe they put the ‘customer first’ yet they fail to provide true customer value and instead push marketing messages, promotions and products.  Then they question why their marketing is not working and continue to push more messages until their user discontinues contact.

As a fashion retailer, H&M’s mobile app stands out far beyond many other retailers.  Not only do they have a clean app with great usability, they also have a section called ‘Inspiration’ which is essentially a mobile blog with style guides, videos and articles that engage the consumer even when they are not looking to shop. This type of content keeps consumers coming back.  This is a great example of an app providing customer centric value without requesting anything in return.

Bottom line: customers are human and should be treated like humans, not automated cash machines waiting to get suckered by a clever message.  Connect with integrity and provide value.  Some apps lack any worthy functionality and act as a mobile billboard pushing promotion after promotion – if you have that app, please do us all a favor and remove it.

2. Immediate Utility- Adding to the point above, your app should provide a specific utility to your consumer, wherein they receive immediate value upon launching the app the first time, second time, third time…and it continues giving.

A great example is the Walgreens mobile app which allows the customer to refill their prescription just by scanning the label, or remind the customer to take their medication and even order pictures directly from their phone to be picked up at the store…wow!  Now that’s immediate utility that provides the consumer great value.

3.  Educated Retail Associates- Every retailer has in-store associates that manage the floors, registers and some even greet customers. So why don’t retailers educate every one of their employees to be ardent advocates (as part of their duties) by casually promoting their company’s app?

Continuing with the Walgreens app as an example – Customer A goes directly to the Pharmacy to fill a prescription, waits in line for 5-10 minutes, maybe more, and finally sees the pharmacist to hand them their bottle. Pretty typical.  As the customer leaves, the pharmacist says “did you know that you don’t have to ever wait in that line again?” Customer A asks “ok…how is that possible?” Pharmacist says “download our app, register, scan your bottle into the app and your app will message you when your prescription is ready for pick up. No more lines.”  Now that is quick and simple promotion that every associate can use to promote their company’s app in a variety of given scenarios.

What about the consumer at the electronics store trying to figure out which tablet or TV to purchase?  The associate asks “can I help you with anything?” Customer B says “no, just looking, trying to figure out which TV is better.”  Associate then says “well here is my opinion…but you can easily download our app in 1 minute and use it to scan the QR code to see reviews from hundreds of customers.”  Customer B says “wow, that’s awesome!”

4. Utilizing Data- This might sound simple, however, identifying the most valuable data points to capture and leverage can be an overwhelming nightmare.  First things first, your app should provide value before asking for something from the consumer (i.e. email, phone, social connection). Consumers who download an app and are immediately greeted with a content barrier requesting personal information will not convert as high.  Remove the barrier, provide value and request the information in the process.  Unless you are Facebook, or your consumer already has an existing relationship with you, consumers are weary of handing over their information, yet again.  Some simple examples are:

  • Want 20% off your purchase, ask the clerk?  Sure, download the app and register to get it.
  • Want to get a prescription refill reminder?  Certainly, download the app and register to get it.
  • Want to buy something through the app and have it delivered to the store?  No problem, download the app and register to get it.

These examples are scratching the surface of how the user can be enticed to register for your app.  Remember that your product is a companion to the consumers’ retail shopping experience, though it may provide stand-alone commerce capabilities, the user must first find inherent value in using the application before taking the next step.

All retailers will have a different approach, however, look to see what successful companies are doing.  No need to recreate the wheel, just continue to enhance on the customer experience and value creation.  Complement their in-store behaviors with bar code scanning, coupon integration, Apple Passbook or Google Wallet, store finder, push notifications, SMS and email integration, reviews and social sharing…the list goes on.  Your business needs will vary, however, the tools are there to create an engaging experience that will add value to your consumer’s journey that will have them coming back for more.  Also, to note all those data points will require that you have a strategy to integrate them together with your POS and online website.  The app should not be a standalone experience and should seamlessly sync with the customer journey at every touch point.

So where are your online customers?  On their phones.

“To some extent we were wrong about multi-device usage. The largest growth area in shopping and on the web is mobile-only consumers.
–Scot Wingo, CEO, ChannelAdvisor Corp.