Why mobile is transforming physical retail

10 Jul 2016

The future is mobile, and it’s here. In the UK, 76% of adults own a smartphone and last year the amount of time the average Brit spent on their mobile surpassed that of a PC for the first time. But while the common perception is that this is taking something away from physical sales, that is largely not the case.

We recently attended Google’s Think Retail event where Jonathan Alferness, Google’s VP Product Management, spoke about the many ways in which mobile is helping physical retailers. “Mobile has become the biggest revolution the tech industry has ever seen” said Alferness. “It’s not what consumers want, but what they need in their daily lives in order to succeed. But the biggest opportunity is for retailers. Mobile is transforming retail at a faster pace than any other industry.”

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Here are a few more things we learnt from Alferness at the event.

People no longer ‘go’ online – we live our lives online.

While mobile can help people make more of events and experiences, Jonathan warned “brands shouldn’t rush to interrupt these moments. Mobile should be there for the small intentions ‘I want to buy it’ ‘I want to learn it.’

“Data is showing us that people are turning to mobiles more for smaller amounts of time, but more frequently. Searches with local intent have doubled. For retailers, you can connect with your consumers in the physical world. 90% of commerce is still done in stores, but where we find it [the product] has fundamentally changed forever.”

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The retailers who win reach customers with searchable local inventories and mobile ads

These are some hopeful facts that Alferness shared: 1 in 3 who click on a mobile ad will then head in store to shop, and on average mobile search ads drove more incremental store visits than online conversions.

These are store visits that would not have happened if it was not for mobile. According to Alferness, Target found that location inventory ads on mobile drove one million more visits in one week before Christmas. It helped that their local inventory was searchable on Google, so people didn’t take the risk of heading there just to find out that it wasn’t in stock.

How a hundred-year-old retailer used mobile to understand their customers

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Alferness cited an amazing case study of hundred-year-old apparel retailer Petit Bateau. They knew their customers were doing their research online before coming in store. What they didn’t know was how to reconcile what was happening online to visits in store.

Essentially, they wanted to measure the effect of digital on actual in-store sales. Looking at data, they learned that 44% of in store buyers visited the website before coming in (with a seven day window.) Consumers with highest in store basket value did two times more research online. It also transpired that search was four times more valuable than they previously realised.

Additionally, they used the data to help with internal communication – and to educate Petit Bateau staff on their customer’s journey.

A vision for the future of retail and mobile

Petit Bateau are a shining example of how a business can be transformed through mobile; by understanding their customers better and using their habits to find more touch-points to help them with their search for a product.

Alferness finished with a hopeful glimpse of the future for mobile and retail, “the vision we have is to offer assistance as people shop” he said. “Consumers will always want the physical store: the theatre of the experience, the serendipity of finding the perfect item. The physical store will not go away.”

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