7 ways retailers are boosting their mobile-based sales

People are definitely shopping a lot with smartphones. But buying? Not so much, at least not today. According to comScore’s 2016 Future in Focus report, people spend 60 percent of their digital shopping time on smartphones, yet spend 16 percent of their digital commerce dollars via mobile.

That leaves a gigantic gap — one that merchants are anxious to close. That’s why retailers are taking lots of steps to boost their mobile commerce revenue.

Here are seven of the most common approaches they’re taking.

1. Speeding up sites for easier shopping

Whether they leverage responsive design, adaptive design, or separate mobile and PC sites to meet the needs of mobile shoppers, most retailers know that site speed and frictionless buying experiences are critical to driving their mcommerce growth. In the early days of mobile shopping, many retailers created an site to keep the “core” PC experience optimized for the dominant screen type. But when six shopping minutes out of 10 take place on a handset, it’s clear that the core experience is now mobile.

And major retail sites are getting better at delivering to that core every day. Part of this improvement has come from a refocus on optimization metrics other than page weight. A couple of years ago, “time to interaction” (TTI) enjoyed some popularity as a better alternative. It focused on the amount of time it takes for the user to be able to interact with a still loading page.

Others focus on a slightly higher bar: the time it takes to render a decent looking and behaving web experience. Google’s algorithms emphasize the time it takes for above-the-fold content to load. Content farther down the page, or various plug-ins, can still be loading, but the consumer already has a decent experience with which to interact.

2. Launching and growing mcommerce apps

US merchants are adopting a strategy that’s very common internationally — focusing on building their app-based mcommerce. Apps enable shopping tailored specifically to a phone, and provide a greater degree of experiential control. They also enable richer personalization. And people just plain like them better than mobile websites. Latest figures show that almost 90 percent of connected mobile time takes place in apps versus the mobile web.

Apps also make a variety of improved merchandising strategies and tactics possible. Push notifications, for example, enjoy open and interaction rates far in excess of email metrics.

Then there are the thousands of mobile-only and app-mostly retailers that have sprung up worldwide over the past couple of years. In developing markets, the success of these businesses reflects the massive role that mobile connectivity plays in the lives of their consumers.

3. Beefing up companion apps

Many brick and mortar sellers are also expanding distribution of apps that enhance the in-store experience. Companion apps in retail provide special offers, access to reviews and content, pair messaging to a user’s location in a store, and the like.

Macy’s, for example, is working hard to improve its already strong companion app cred. It offers rewards points account management, store-location-triggered content and offers, scan and learn content, and exclusive discounts for app users when they shop the store.

Another great example is Chico’s, the women’s apparel retailer. Chico’s views personal relationships between customers and associates as integral to its success and growth. Smartphones enable associates to recall and leverage customer preferences for a more tailored and personal in-store experience.

Apps can also help retailers better leverage unique mobile capabilities, like geolocation. Finally, apps are great for making loyalty programs easier. And all the shopper data from such programs can help personalize app content to a specific user. And as we all know, more personal almost always means more profitable.

4. Streamlining content

Mobile shopping often begins with a different mindset than PC-based shopping. Users want to get to the goods faster and are often willing to transact more if the content available to them is succinct and focused.

Shorter headlines. Little or no body copy. An emphasis on optimized imagery. These are the watchwords of mobile commerce in 2016. And they are all implemented to appeal to mobile shoppers and how their preferences are different when surfing the small screen.

5. Improving buying processes

Many retailers are working diligently to reduce the friction that can impede purchases. Here are some of the most common ways they are doing this:

Requiring registration
This one can seem counterintuitive because the need to register is consistently rated a top reason for cart abandonment. But if you can get a user to register in an app (or on a website) early, then you can auto populate forms and steps later. Lost first-time sales can be more than made up for with repeat sales to registered users. Requiring registration is also proving invaluable as a strategy to reduce fraud — so much so that many retailers are reconsidering whether they should have a guest check out path at all!

Fairly distributing coupon codes
Have you ever gotten to a checkout page that asked for a coupon code that you didn’t have? It can be frustrating to realize that you are not getting the best deal. My strategy is to fill a cart and then Google for coupon codes — tens of millions of other shoppers do the same. But research also shows that many shoppers abandon carts because they feel cheated on getting the best possible deal. Sneaky coupon distribution can also be a great way of turning off your best customers if you focus your discounts on new users only. Many retailers are moving to distributing codes on their own sites instead of (just) shopping comparison sites. Others are doing away with codes altogether, or making coupon code blanks less prominent — findable, but not front and center.

Showcasing shopping carted items
Lots of people want to look over the items in their shopping carts before they transact. Retailers that make that task easy — and provide strong visuals of the goods on offer — tend to convert mobile shoppers better.

Requiring fewer pages and steps
Amazon 1-Click is the best example of this. And many other retailers are also working hard to reduce the number of steps and amount of data entry required to make a purchase.

Proactive shopper pathing
Minimizing extraneous choices and simplifying the purchaser’s decision-making process help boost transactions and transaction rates.

Providing security assurance
Many people still view mobile as less secure for transactions than PC. By providing verbal and visual assurance of strong security, retailers can mitigate some of the risk of losing wary would-be mobile transactors.

Ensuring cost transparency
Lots of people drop off when they get surprised by high shipping and handling fees. Brands that make shipping information and costs clearer seem to covert more mobile shoppers.

6. Encouraging mobile payments

We’re all becoming familiar with services like ApplePay — “proximity mobile payments” in the vernacular. Lots of retailers are experimenting in this area, with a broad range of success rates. In the U.S., Starbucks is widely believed to be the best at transitioning shopper behavior to mobile payment. Approximately 21 percent of its transactions now take place via mobile phone — something that also simplifies user participation in their loyalty program. The explosion of payment services is driving increases in penetration — but it also appears to be contributing to a bit of consumer confusion as shoppers try to identify services with the broadest reach and best features. In addition, in-aisle checkout options that leverage smartphones are also growing in popularity — both using kiosks and leveraging UPC readers on the devices themselves.

7. Making mobile-exclusive offers

To grow mcommerce, retailers need users to buy more, buy more often, or both. A number of retailers are implementing mobile-exclusive offers to both drive more app launches/mobile site visits and motivate incremental purchases.

Lots of such merchants emphasize discounts in their mobile offers. However, an increasing number are also testing and implementing approaches in which unique, upmarket goods and experiences are made available only to mobile shoppers. Fashion house Zegna was an early mover here, offering live streaming and exclusive merchandise way back in 2012. And a variety of other brands have followed suit.

The stores, they are a changin’

Retail is a category in tremendous transition, and mobile is a key pillar as they chase new sales opportunities and adapt to be more relevant to today’s shoppers. From the big box discounters to couture emporia, most retailer leaders know that success today requires flexibility — and a robust mobile plan.