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Mobile Web for the Masses

Brenna Johnson
Senior Product Strategist

There’s no arguing that mobile is a big deal. We’ve all heard the stats about crazy mobile adoption over the last 4-5 years, particularly in retail. But one thing still isn’t totally clear: whether mobile Websites or native mobile apps are the way to go for retailers.

comScore cites that consumers spend 55% of their time with retailers on mobile devices, outpacing computers  – and this isn’t general online surfing (which is far higher), it’s shopping. Some, including myself, argue that mobile is the lynchpin of a retailer’s omnichannel strategy. Smartphones perfectly link the in-store experience with the digital world – or at least, they should.

Aside from the challenges of supporting a mobile environment, there’s a lot of noise about how to take your mobile program to the next level. Since things in retail (and particularly mobile) move at lightening pace, our trip down memory lane will only encompass the last 4 years. Oracle (and the big analyst firms) used to tell retail customers to think about how mobile fits in to their larger strategy. We used to say things like “study how your valuable customers engage with mobile” or “give customers a mobile-specific, boutique app experience and make your brand more ‘fun,’” or ask, “what part of the customer journey do you think mobile plays a part in?” This line of thinking isn’t relevant anymore.

Yes, there absolutely needs to be mobile-specific functionality and mobile-optimized experiences, but thinking about what “role” mobile plays at specific points in the customer journey is dated. We know that in today’s consumer-driven world, generalizations don’t drive a great customer experience or long-term loyalty. Shoppers want what they want at that moment, and they want retailers to know what personalized merchandising, offers and content are going to meet their needs. I think that we can all agree that thanks to smartphones, attention spans have gone from short to nonexistent. So – in mobile, you’d better deliver.

Now let’s get back to the mobile Web vs., native app conversation. Don’t get me wrong – I think apps can be a vital part of a retailer’s relationship with their most engaged customers.  Having mobile apps as a retailer does not make sense for all, as apps must be built out and supported for different platforms, and will only hit a subset of the customer base (and just about zero first-time shoppers). However, native apps present unique opportunities to reward those who already do business with your brand. Shoppers who are going to download (and frequently use) a retailer's app likely fall in to the category of valuable loyalist (which on average, is about 25% of a retailer’s customer base). It’s a fantastic opportunity to drive adoption with offers, flash sales, and perhaps experimental features. But bottom line, it had better be special.

The reality is, that to deliver to the millions of shoppers with a sub-second smartphone attention span, mobile Web is the place to start. And in some cases, mobile Web is all you need.

Why? The questions that analyst firms and we used to ask retailers about the point(s) in the customer journey where mobile is used are now bunk. You can’t predict and you can’t generalize where and how shoppers will access mobile. That approach meant pigeon-holing mobile as part of a larger strategy, whereas today’s goal of omnichannel commerce is that touchpoints need to work together, interchangeably on the shopper’s terms. Mobile actions don’t fit in a box – neither do in-store or Website needs anymore. Predicting doesn’t work. This is why having a great mobile Website with zero access friction is critical.

All digital experiences must be linked – both from backend data and tooling perspectives, and in the customer-facing experience. The mobile Website cannot just be a watered-down version of the core desktop Website. Yes, it must be optimized for the footprint, like giving high visibility to the most popular mobile actions, accessible with the fewest number of finger taps.

When a shopper takes out their phone to interact with a retailer – whether to look at reviews in store, access their shopping cart loaded from their laptop, or begin and complete a transaction from their device, make sure everything is available, familiar, and easy to navigate. Having the same internal tooling running the digital experience across touchpoints will ensure that personalized merchandising and content that consumers want is available wherever they want it.

If your mobile Web site is not optimized, it’s far more hurtful to your brand than lack of a native app. Period.

This is why, for the masses (all of your loyal customers and the millions of anonymous shoppers out there) mobile Web is where it’s at. Sure, your most loyal customers may download an app, and that’s a great opportunity to extend a VIP experience, but what about acquiring new customers? What about shoppers who will never download an app? And what about mobile device fragmentation: how do you select which app(s) to build out and support if you don’t have the resources? Enter mobile Web. If a retailer’s goal is to sell to the masses, mobile Web is the greatest opportunity to do that.

Luxury retailer Molton Brown went with the mobile Web approach, launching their Oracle Commerce powered mobile Websites in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. The awesome thing is that Molton Brown is extending the same tooling powering their core Website experience to the mobile channel, so experiences are connected, and internal management is simplified. We helped them take a lot of the guesswork out of developing the mobile experience with a reference store – helping them get live quickly with mobile best practices baked in to the product. It’s a great example of what the Molton Brown calls “another step in our strategy for providing a truly seamless omni-channel experience for our customers.”

Retail has come a long way in the short history of mobile commerce. And with mobile still in its infancy, more change is coming. But if retailers don’t have the budget or internal resources to run a double-pronged app(s) and mobile Web strategy, mobile Web gets retailers the biggest bang for their buck, greater usage, and increased loyalty over time.

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