Five Mobile Trends Brands Should Watch

March 19, 2014

crowd with cell phones - AP

The ubiquity of mobile devices belies the fact that mobile is still on a growth curve and that the myriad ways in which users employ them are still evolving. As essential as it is for brands to keep pace with their customers’ attitudes and behaviors around mobile, it can also be challenging for a number of reasons. These include:

  • The growth in mobile is rapid and occurring in every geography
  • The definition of mobile is broadening to include not only smartphones but tablets, mobile apps, and in-store kiosks as well
  • Most mobile users are actively engaged in the multichannel universe, using more than one kind of device to complete key tasks.

Still, as leaders in mobile technology and observers of the marketplace, we at Usablenet have identified five key trends in mobile that brands need to be aware of.

1. The Mobile Revolution Continues First and foremost is the continuing rapid adoption of mobile and tablet devices – an unrelenting phenomenon with the acute force of a trend but the staying power of a status quo. For many consumers, “mobile first” has become an instinctive response when faced with a wide range of daily tasks. Because there are many tasks being done on mobile, each one has to be accomplished easily, efficiently, and – because some tasks require multiple screens involving mobile, desktop, and tablet – seamlessly. Anything less is unacceptable to the consumer, and the brand will be penalized by loss of faith and loss of business. Tablets are fast emerging as the mobile commerce device of choice. During 2013, tablets accounted for $28.7 billion out of a total of more than $60 billion in mobile sales. This represents a surge of more than five times the $5.1 billion in sales from tablet devices in 2012. Furthermore, while PC shipments are declining, tablet ownership has doubled since 2012, which will fuel ongoing growth in tablet-based online purchases. Interestingly, consumers are very comfortable blending mobile devices in their online shopping activities. Multiple studies have shown that shoppers like to browse, get product information, take and share photos of products, and compare prices on their smartphones, but when it comes time to actually purchase they often turn to tablet. This was shown throughout the 2013 holiday season, where smartphones generated roughly twice the amount of online traffic as tablets, yet tablet traffic converted to sales at roughly three times the rate of smartphone traffic. App usage is also on the rise, especially retailer-dedicated apps, with many shoppers saying they prefer to use mobile apps because they are convenient, efficient, and easy to use. Google recently reported that consumers are spending more than eight hours per week doing in-app research.

2. Location Is The New Black Consumers are on the go but they are reachable, anytime and anywhere. But these consumers are not looking for information, they’re looking for reasons. Reasons to purchase specific things from specific brands – usually things they have purchased before or indicated their interest in. Brands need to take advantage of location services not just to reach shoppers, but to reel them in. There are a few different types of location services, including in-store wifi, apps with in-store mode, GPS-enabled experiences, and micro-location technology like iBeacon. These services provide a level of customer service and interactivity that could only be equaled by a dedicated sales assistant assigned to each shopper. In fact, 96% of customers reported in an Acquity Group study that they prefer locations that offer free wifi and return to the store because of this. At Lowe’s, when mobile-equipped consumers enter a store they instantly receive a welcome message with useful information. Lowe’s in-store mode shows exact product locations, enables store-specific product research, and integrates with their existing loyalty program. Fifty percent of consumers reported that such a service makes them more confident making major purchases in-store, 30% said they would be more likely to browse additional items not on their list, and 20% said they would be more likely to stay longer in the store. Another form of location service that is growing in popularity is mobile payments, including apps that complete transactions and mobile wallets from companies like PayPal, Google, and Square. As with the early days of mobile commerce, concerns about security and privacy are holding back broader adoption but the convenience factor will likely help to foster acceptance.

3. Self-Help Is Becoming The New Norm Social critics may bemoan the loss of person-to-person engagement as a result of everyone focusing on their interactions with their own mobile devices, but brands can benefit from an understanding that consumers really do want to achieve their tasks on their own; by providing them with the tools to do that, brands will achieve their goals of building customer loyalty. What do consumers want? The ability to check prices and checkout without needing in-store sales associates and cashiers. Brand-specific apps that offer highly personalized experiences. Video content that adds texture and content to browsing. Price checking technologies are the most frequently used self-help devices, with 60% of mobile users expecting to use them as they shop. Furthermore, one in three shoppers prefer to use their smartphone to get information than ask for help from a sales associate. This probably is less about poorly trained or unfriendly sales associates than the sheer convenience and efficiency of mobile self-help. An example of an effective brand-specific app is the one offered by Walgreen’s. Leveraging the increasing popularity of mobile couponing, the app enables users to “clip” paperless coupons and add the savings to their Balance Rewards loyalty card account. This not only adds value to users, it also helps to drive in-store traffic. By the end of 2013, mobile videos traffic accounted for 53% of total mobile traffic. It has been shown that 56% of global online consumers watch video on their mobile phone at least once a month, while 74% of consumers reported that seeing video of products in use would be either somewhat or very helpful in making a purchasing decision. It is clear that consumers accept and are eager to watch videos on mobile sites and in mobile apps.

4. The Rise Of The Visual Web What do we mean by “visual web”? Isn’t the web an inherently visual experience? Yes, but in this instance it’s not so much one person’s visual experience on a mobile site, it’s the ability to share images and leverage the “picture is worth a thousand words” power of visual information that drives much of social media today. In fact, social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest are practically 100% visual. Those, along with Tumblr and Wanelo are rising in popularity and usage as both personal and shared repositories for shopping ideas, fashion tips, and wish lists – in essence, they are online, user-generated catalogs. Surveys conducted just before the 2013 holiday season revealed that 63% of online shoppers said they planned to use online catalogs, and 35% said they plan to refer to Pinterest – emerging as a clear leader in social commerce – when making purchase decisions. According to consulting firm Booz & Company, sales of physical goods through online social networks will grow by 93% per year in the U.S., reaching $14 billion by 2015. Another interesting trend within this realm is “co-buying”, which allows customers to actually decide what products and offers go live. The Buyapowa co-buying platform operates at the intersection of gaming and social commerce. Consumers register to vote for the offers they want to go live. The more shoppers who sign up, the greater the value of the deal. Buyers get rewards for getting friends to sign up and buy, and for spreading the word through their own social networking pages. Brands benefit because consumers are engaged and driving traffic and sales.

5. Interactive Experiences Drive Sales Interactive used to imply a purely digital experience conducted outside the realm of brick and mortar stores. Increasingly, however, online and in-store experiences are becoming integrated, leading to increased sales and satisfaction. With micro-location services like iBeacon’s ShopBeacon, stores become more than simply wifi hotspots – they become highly interactive and intensely personalized shop-spots. Shopkick deployed the first ShopBeacon BLE-based presence signal at Macy’s in New York City on November 20, 2013. When a mobile-equipped shopper enters the store, she receives a welcome message on their phone, gets location-specific deals, discounts, recommendations, and rewards – the micro-location service knows who the customer is, what products she has liked, and where she is within the store. Many brands are starting to experiment with micro-location, and the jury is still out on where the line is between value-adding experiences versus value-less noise. Other emerging interactive experiences are more subtle, comprising fun ways to participate in and share brand promotions, or combine personal interests and brand preferences. Champagne producer Moët & Chandon developed a Tie-for-Two photo-sharing app that enables users to apply a rose-colored filter to their mobile photos and add graphics to make one-of-a-kind prints. This seemingly purely recreational app actually helps the brand build awareness of its spirits portfolio. Similarly, Nike Mexico created a promotion with Facebook that allows users to accrue points for every kilometer they run. These points can be redeemed as bids on Nike-branded running gear in Facebook auctions. This app provides customers with extra incentive to keep fit while at the same time promoting their products.

Conclusion These five trends illustrate the continuing – and continuous – evolution of mobile.. In all cases, while content can vary, context is king. Consumer expectations of how brands use social media and localization services to deliver highly personalized, in-the-moment experiences will only increase. Brands should be careful not to underestimate their customers’ desire to gain real value in every interaction, regardless of the channel. Speaking of which, a brand’s mobile strategy must accommodate clear use cases for mobile, apps, tablet, and in-store experiences, with mobile as the hub of a seamlessly integrated omnichannel experience. It’s no longer phone vs. tablet vs. PC, and it’s no longer a case of online or offline – it’s everything together, all delivering a consistent and compelling user experience. In many cases, as described above, consumers are already leading the way; it’s up to the brands to catch up and meet their demands with strategic action.

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