Retailer Apps Must Focus on the Offline Shopper, Not Just Ecommerce

The notion that retail apps or mobile sites should primarily be a shrunken ecommerce experience is misguided. That idea, however, is promoted in February survey results from RSR Research. The survey data reflect how retailers regard the role and value of mobile.

The results divide retailers into "winners" (market leaders) and "all others" (presumably laggards). Among the winners, the top use case for mobile is "an ecommerce site that can extend into mobile." That's followed by "downloadable shopping app, "public WiFi in stores," and "employee assisted selling mobile capability."

It's a bit unclear what these secondary responses mean. However I assume they all pertain to an offline or in-store role for retail apps or sites.

 

Source: RSR Research

RSR celebrates the notion that the primary role for mobile is to extend ecommerce into mobile: "an eCommerce site that can extend to mobile is the best technology approach for their customer-facing mobile strategies." I disagree with this philosophy. 

Although most smartphone users have conducted transactions on their handsets, this is not the primary shopping-related use of smartphones. The overwhelming majority of ecommerce transactions that involve mobile, start on a smartphone and end in stores or on a tablet/laptop later. 

A recent ShopVisible survey illustrated that while mobile devices drive 30% of ecommerce/retail traffic, they're only responsible for 15% of purchases. But beyond this the data show that smartphones only generate 4% of "mobile orders."

ShopVisible data  

There are range of surveys with different percentage findings about mobile transactions. But directionally they're virtually all the same: consumers use smartphones as a critical part of the shopping research process but when it comes to buying they do so on PCs, tablets and, overwhelmingly, offline in local stores. (Internet influenced offline spending is probably worth more than $2 trillion annually, many times larger than ecommerce.)

We don't argue with the idea that mobile apps and sites have an important role to play in ecommerce (tablets especially). Despite this, smartphone retail apps should be thought of primarily as a tool to aid the offline shopper. Most of the current deficiencies of the offline retail experience (lack of competent in-store personnel, inability to find products, additional product information) can be mitigated or addressed with a strong in-store app experience.

It's also possible to "have it both ways": to emphasize ecommerce when the user is far from the store but use location detection (and opt-in) to offer a in-store experience that features shopping lists, product information, buying incentives and in-store maps/navigation (where appropriate).  

Juxtaposing ecommerce and offline commerce is something of a false dichotomy. Offline shopping support should not be neglected, however, because retailers are focused on trying to drive mobile-commerce transactions (because they misunderstand consumer behavior). Retailers should provide an ecommerce catalog in mobile while still recognizing that there's far more value and opportunity in supporting the real-world shopper.