6 tips for a better mobile retail experience

6 tips for a better mobile retail experience

Mobile technology should be a perfect way for stores to enhance the in-store shopping experience for their customers, but far too often it’s clunky and frustrating. Here are six ways to improve the retail app experience.

Maybe you’re just looking for shopping inspiration. Or, perhaps you want a great deal or some personalized suggestions. So, you load up a retailer’s mobile app or surf to their mobile website. Done and done, right? Wrong.

If your experience is like that of a good chunk of today’s consumers, this can be a road to nowhere that is nothing like the elegant mobile experiences you’ve become used to on apps like Uber or sites like Amazon. The retail app might not load properly, or be hard to navigate; the mobile website may seem confusing and cluttered; or the whole experience may not connect in any way to a recent in-store or desktop interaction with the same retailer. So, it’s no surprise that potential customers with short attention spans quickly bail and go elsewhere.

Smartphones have become the primary device for many, especially millennials and other mobile “elites,” but a majority of consumers give their mobile retail experiences the thumbs-down, according to a recent 2015 Adobe Mobile Consumer Report. The research found that less than half were satisfied with their experiences on retail applications and mobile Web sites.

“There’s a real disconnect between retailers and customers when it comes to mobile,” says Matt Asay, vice president of mobile for Adobe’s digital marketing business unit. “Mobile-first companies such as Uber are setting expectations for what is possible in mobile, but that’s not what most retailers provide on their website or app. On the other side of the coin, a great in-store experience like you get at Target also isn’t what you necessarily get on mobile, either.”

[Related: 9 ways mobile and social tech improves the retail shopping experience]

At the same time, it’s more important than ever for retailers to get mobile right, as smartphones have become an increasingly important influence on in-store sales. A recent Deloitte study, “Navigating the New Digital Divide” found that the influence of smartphones on in-store sales rose to 28 percent in 2014, up from 19 percent the prior year. Consumers are getting more sophisticated with their use of mobile, not just for price comparisons and reviews but more often for inspiration and idea-generation earlier in the shopping process. They’re also spending up to 90 percent of their time on their phones in apps – so if retailers want consumers to spend time with them on mobile, their apps need to improve.

So how can retailers improve the mobile experience for current and potential customers? Here are six tips if you’re serious about mobile:

1. Think mobile first

Consumers may not buy first on mobile, but increasingly their first touchpoint will be on their smartphone. “You need to think about the customer journey and realize that the odds of them making it to your store increasingly depends on their mobile experience,” says Asay. That means putting some real skin in the mobile game, he adds: “Most companies say they are working on improving mobile, but if you ask whether mobile is core to their company strategy, or if they have real budget set aside for it, those numbers plummet.”

2. Make content mobile-friendly

In a rush to “play” in mobile, retailers often try to shoehorn their online presence into their mobile apps, which just doesn’t work, says Aaron Glazer, CEO of mobile optimization platform Taplytics. “If the content and flow aren’t right-sized for a mobile device, which is a fraction of the size of most computers, it creates a very non-friendly user experience.” Checkout flow and browsing are two areas that retailers should be retooling for smaller mobile screens, he explains: “That means presenting shorter forms that flow into the next, fewer buttons, non-cluttered screens and only a couple of calls-to-action.”

3. Remember, mobile is a relationship

“A customer’s mobile device isn’t a channel, it’s a relationship and it needs to be treated that way,” says Carla Fitzgerald, CMO at mobile solutions provider Smith Micro. “If you're always talking and never listening, observing and remembering what people like, what they do, and where they go, you won't keep relationships very long.” Apps need to be smarter, she adds, so they observe more than location. “You want to combine a series of events over time to really understand consumer context, preferences and intent,” she says.

4. Understand what shoppers want on mobile

A recent consumer study from Bronto Software found that a majority of retailers expect consumers to use their mobile devices to read reviews and research return/exchange policies, but only 19 percent of shoppers say they will use their mobile device for that purpose. Instead, nearly two-thirds of consumers use mobile devices to search for promotions and coupons, or lower prices at another store. “Retailers need to keep the information customers are searching for front and center to improve the experience and make shopping painless,” says Jim Davidson, head of research for Bronto Software.

[Related: 5 cutting-edge retail technology trends]

5. Start small for more mobile success

What has led to bad user experiences on mobile, says Asay, is that companies try to go soup to nuts right from the start. “Instead, you should focus on one thing you can build into our app or mobile site that is hugely valuable and a reason for somebody to open your app,” he says. A non-retail example, he explains, is the ability to get a boarding pass through Delta’s app. “Now that I have that I use my Delta app all the time, but I wouldn’t have if not for that boarding pass,” he explains. “Retailers need to figure out what their ‘boarding pass’ is.”

6. Up the ante on mobile infrastructure

According to a recent Mobiquity study, shoppers are frustrated with mobile technology – with low mobile load times proving the biggest complaint, followed by inconsistent user experiences and not enough mobile-accessible information. “These findings should come as a wake-up call to retailers, since we found a huge disconnect in terms of expectations versus reality,” says Scott Snyder, Mobiquity’s president and chief strategy officer. “This demonstrates the need for retailers to make improvements to both backend infrastructures as well as user-facing applications/portals.”

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