Why Mobile is the New Retail Hub

We knew it was coming. As consumers have grown increasingly dependent on their smartphones and tablets to make everyday activities more convenient, they’ve also adjusted how they shop. But it isn’t in the way that you might think.

In its recent study, “Omnichannel Trends 2015: Mobile Is the New Retail Hub,” eMarketer reports that while the majority of Americans now shop with a mobile device, most purchases are still happening offline. Yes, shoppers are researching products, comparing pricing, and even texting photos of potential purchases to their friends for feedback. When it comes time to buy, though, most are returning to the brick-and-mortar stores on which they’ve always relied.

This is prompting retailers to rethink their business model. Some, like Walgreens, long ago anticipated a shift and responded by crafting a shopping experience that spans digital channels. Others went in the opposite direction. Online fashion rental service Rent the Runway has opened several offline stores where customers can make an appointment to work one-on-one with a stylist, while men’s retailer Bonobos invites consumers to be advised and measured in a “guide shop” but only takes orders online.

The idea is to home in on a strategy that resonates with your customers and meets their multi-channel shopping needs. Retailers needn’t worry that their brick-and-mortar stores are becoming obsolete, but they do need to deliver convenience and customization in an omnichannel world.

This is one of the reasons so many retailers are looking at programmatic marketing for their digital advertising strategy. They’re running paid search efforts in tandem with programmatic campaigns to better identify key prospects, and deploying ads that leverage time of day and browsing data to serve tremendously relevant messages. Restructuring your business is just one part of creating a seamless shopping experience. When consumers rely on mobile to guide their purchasing decisions, retailers that are present with useful product information and offers are ahead of the game.

That’s especially true when you consider the prevalence of in-store mobile use. To capture a consumer’s attention when they’re showrooming—examining products in-store with a mind to buy online—department stores and apparel retailers are utilizing in-store beacons. Mobile geo-targeting and geo-fencing are also proving popular as companies recognize the immense benefits of reaching consumers right where they are.

The trick, of course, is to retain their trust. Studies show close to 60 percent of US smartphone owners are aware of in-store beacons, and 20 percent have already used them. That’s promising. Still, retailers will need to strike a balance between providing utility and maintaining transparency if they hope to foster this trend.

And let’s not overlook the importance of data. An omnichannel retail strategy is built on customer data that allows businesses to identify and observe shoppers as they shift channels and platforms. Similar data is used to support the mobile programmatic campaigns that provide those consumers with the product insight they need to help them make a purchase. Retailers should consider using first-party data like that harvested from customer relationship management efforts and site logins to follow customers from the desktop to the mobile web. Coupling in-market intent data with first-party data for retargeting campaigns can drive a high return on ad spend and a lift in revenue.

As consumers continue to experiment with omnichannel shopping to see what works best, retailers would be wise to take a cue from Walgreens and Rent the Runway, and do the same.

Bryan Bartlett is Editor-in-Chief and Marketing Manager at Chango.

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