“Between the promise and the purchase lies the shadow.” (With apologies to T.S. Eliot).
Since the late ’90s, the explosion of the internet and subsequent launch of ecommerce has promised a new ease with which customers can go online, find an item they wish to purchase, complete a transaction, and have the item delivered or downloaded.
Today that promise remains, yet despite most retail businesses now being online, the share of online purchases is less than 10 per cent of overall sales. Everyone is shopping online, but only a small percentage actually purchase online. It is important to break the online channel down further to find out what is actually going on.
In order to understand this ‘10 per cent’ figure, items purchased online need to be split into one of two categories: ‘high-touch’ and ‘low-touch’ items. For example, if you are browsing and purchasing an airline flight or hotel room, you are buying a low-touch item. Based on its star rating and reputation, the customer understands the quality of the particular service experience, the customer knows the quality of the experience going into the transaction and price is paramount, and therefore purchasing online is a no-brainer.
With high-touch purchases, on the other hand, you will want to touch and try these items before making a purchase. When looking for a pair of shoes, a consumer will browse online to traverse different retail brand sites quickly, but ultimately, the purchase will be made in-store.
All about omnichannel
Despite recording less foot traffic, bricks and mortar retailers in the United States are experiencing higher revenue. One of the reasons for this is that customers have done their research online, so by the time they arrive at the store they are ready to try and buy. The traditional window shopping experience is now carried out through a glass screen on your chosen device.
Although many retailers have an online element to their business, it is generally run separately from the brick and mortar store, which misses the the critical conversion from browsing online to purchasing in-store. While online retail sales have seen steady growth, most reach a plateau at the 16 per cent mark, though these figures are often skewed because return rates that can run up around 35 per cent are regularly not included in these sums.
This omnichannel customer journey highlights the significance of not pitting online against in-store, but placing more focus on transcending the online shopping to in-store purchasing. Click and collect is an early example of this and demonstrates why mobile is probably the best channel to achieve this.
Mobile the way forward
There’s no denying that mobile technology is having a significant impact on the omnichannel retailing and shopping experience, with consumers now using mobile as a catalyst to drive them into stores.
Mobile web and mobile apps are predicted to influence US$1.4 trillion in offline sales within the next five years, according to the Forrester Research Web-Influenced Retail Sales Forecast, 2015 to 2020. However, mobile apps—with the power of integration, deeper analytics and more robust technology—are in a place to do more to drive the in-store and omnichannel experience.
In fact, retailers who are resistant to app integrations might be shocked to know that mobile users actually spend more time on mobile apps than they do on mobile websites. A Digital Future in Focus report from ComScore found that typical mobile app engagement is 20 times higher than mobile websites at over 200 minutes per month.
As platforms integrate in ways that upend existing models and reconfigure the economics of retail, it is time for retailers to embark on a new era of digital that will look markedly different. Mobile and online shopping has created not only a simple discovery channel, but for retailers who know that ‘sales run the shop’, online is an increasingly important mechanism for retailers to influence potential customers through contextual communication.
Customers are already accustomed to an omnichannel experience, with mobile a popular touch point in the process. Integrating online and offline channels to create a frictionless experience is key to easing the path to purchase, driving customer loyalty, and catering to the increasingly mobile shopper.
Cameron Wall is the CEO and co-founder at RainCheck.
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