OPINION: Don't forget about smartphones in the tablet age

Aaron Tobin
By Aaron Tobin | 27 March 2013
Rodeo's Aaron Tobin argues retailers need to capitalise on opportunities on smartphones as the increasing popularity of tablets change the game.

E-commerce is as accessible as it’s ever been and consumers can shop from almost anywhere. It’s been this way for a while. But with the increasing saturation of tablets – it is estimated that one in three households will own a tablet by the end of this year – the game has changed and retailers need to respond to how and when consumers are accessing their sites and develop content accordingly.

In particular, smartphone retailing has changed and retailers need to be creating platforms that focus more on where the consumer is, as well as what the consumer wants. Retailers should be championing the store through the smart phone, with the products fitting in around this.
With a bigger screen and easier navigation, the tablet has quickly become preferable for browsing and shopping online. In 2010, 27% of online shoppers aged 18 to 24 used a tablet to transact online and these numbers have been rising steadily since.

But this does not mean the smartphone is redundant in mobile commerce. Consumers see their phone as an extension of themselves; it is their connection to the social media world and an essential part of the everyday. The role of the smartphone in mobile commerce simply has to develop as the consumer’s options broaden.

A bit of history first. In the early days of e-commerce, the desktop computer had centre stage. Bricks and mortar retailers had an e-commerce website which users could transact on. It took a little while to take off but continues to grow as the consumer preference to in-the-flesh shopping. Then along came the smartphone. Smartphones offered portability and a different experience for the consumer. Many retailers realised that a mobile shop front was the best way to get to their consumers, so they replicated their websites for the phone. The problem was that there was nothing outstanding about many of these sites. The advent of tablets was a game changer in online commerce because tablets and smartphones shared a major similarity in mobility. So smartphone retailing had to change.

Smartphones allow the consumer to be social, local and mobile – local being the operative word. In the US, 96% of consumers currently research a product or service on their smartphone and 94% search for local information with their phone. Traditional retailers have already begun optimising their smartphone offering to focus on the consumer’s location, with store finders often a key feature of the homepage. But there is much more that can be done here and smartphones could be the way to break from the pack in the Australian retailing landscape.

Brands need to create localised smartphone shopping experiences that offer the consumer information on relevant retail outlets and inventory to make their path to purchase as seamless as possible. In the US, Walgreen’s provide consumers with coupons for free soft-drink at a nearby store, Home Depot providing the same concept for building supplies. Consider Amex, who can sync a user’s card with their Foursquare account, then, working with retailers, provide detail of deals and discounts in their vicinity. There are endless applications for this technology and all brands have the ability to embrace it.

Innovative retailers will develop a mobile shopping experience that put the consumer’s engagement with their local store front and centre within the user experience through a variety of techniques. To get to the next level in mobile retailing, their smart phone search functionality could display products and stock relevant to that local store with live availability.

If consumers are already using their smartphones to compare prices with competitors while they are in store, retailers need to find a clever way to combat this and give consumers immediate knowledge of what they need so they can keep their customer.

The rise of the tablet leaves a space that mobile can own in the retailing process. Brands that are quick to take the opportunity to own this part of the process will reap the rewards.

Aaron Tobin
General manager

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