Social and Mobile Channels Will Evolve in 2012

Jan 30, 2012 5:48 PM  By

Mobile commerce and social networks will continue to gain steam for merchants in 2012, and a key challenge for retailers will be keeping up with all the new devices, platforms and applications that make shopping more engaging. Neglect in any of these areas can mean a loss of customer loyalty and a major blow to your brand.

The recent holiday season and the activities we saw on mobile devices point to a key trend: mobile devices are becoming more prominent for purchasing, not just researching; additionally, the tablet is taking over the desktop as the preferred way to shop online.

During the 2011 holidays we saw a huge increase in sales from smartphones and tablets, according to an IBM Benchmark report, which showed that combined they accounted for 11% of total online sales, effectively double what we saw in 2010. The same study found that the conversion rate for iPad users was 6.3% in December 2011, compared with 3.1% for mobile devices overall.

And similar to the past couple of years, more and more consumers are turning to Facebook and Twitter to get input from social connections when making buying decisions. Additionally, a new crop of social networks has opened up new opportunities for retailers to connect with customers, including Google Plus (Google+) and Pinterest. Perhaps we’ll even see another addition or two to the social network community this year.

To help you keep up with the ways mobile and social media will evolve in 2012, here is a list of the key trends to watch, and suggestions for how to respond to your customers’ continually changing shopping habits.

Bring online shopping to tablets
You may be still trying to figure out how best to deliver an engaging experience on smartphones, and along comes the iPad to make things even more exciting. While tablets are considered by some to be yet another mobile device, the experience they offer is completely different, while also being unique to shopping on a PC. So you now must have three different variations on your site to address each type of platform – and consistency across all is critical.

One retail brand that’s currently addressing these issues while creating a tablet-friendly site is Totes-Isotoner, the weather accessories retailer. Totes-Isotoner saw dramatic growth in the number of sales on its mobile site last year, and is now working to create a similar experience on tablets.

According to the e-commerce team there, one key difference of tablets is that they don’t support Flash, so e-commerce sites that incorporate this feature will need alternatives for the tablet. Also, tablets don’t have a mouse, so users are limited in their ability to click on and zoom in on images. A tablet-oriented site needs to account for finger taps and swipes for this and other important functions.

Retool search and navigation
The growth of shopping on tablets brings new search and navigation challenges to retail brands, which must continually create new ways for customers to easily get around a site. Tablets offer certain benefits over smartphones: the screens are bigger, so content and images are easier to read and see. But again, finger-based navigation is tricky, so small text menus and lists of refinements are difficult to select. This is also true for onscreen buttons and page numbers.

Since search and navigation are key on smaller screens like those on smartphones and tablets, including merchandising promotions in search results and on navigation pages is a great way to draw in your visitors. This is particularly true for tablet shoppers, who convert at a higher rate than other mobile shoppers, as the December sales numbers show.

Blend search and social in online shopping
Studies show that mobile users spend 91% of their Internet time on social networks, which presents a great opportunity for your brand to connect with them on this platform and save them from having to leave to go to your site.

For example, you can add a search box to your Facebook page, similar to what motorcycle retailer Chaparral Motorsports has done. Make Me Heal, a provider of plastic surgery, beauty, and anti-aging products and information, also added site search functionality to its Facebook page, allowing fans to search its site right from the social network.

As a result, both retailers have seen deeper engagement with customers on Facebook, and more traffic coming to their sites from the social network. You can also allow your customers to use their Facebook login info as the sign-in for your storefront.

Additionally, when shoppers view search results on your site it helps to see what their social connections have said about a particular item. For example, you can include the number of ‘likes’ or ‘+1s’ a particular item has received in the search results, and also allow visitors to reorder results to see products with the most likes at the top.

Address new social networks on the rise. Pinterest, the online pinboard, is generating a good deal of buzz because of its novel approach to the ‘like’ approach, by allowing customers to put a ‘Pin It’ button on pages with images or content that they like. The site increased its audience from 418,000 visitors in May 2011 to 3.3 million by October, according to ComScore.

Pinterest has been slowly rolling out tools for brands – you can now add “Pin It” buttons to products so that shoppers can add their favorite items to their Pinterest page. As Pinterest continues to evolve and see more activity, this could be yet another type of user-generated content to include in search results.

Thierry Costa is vice president of marketing at SLI Systems.