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Beacons, social commerce to play bigger role for 2014 holiday season

Mobile?s role during the 2014 holiday shopping season will be bigger than ever, opening up both opportunities and challenges for marketers as they eye beacons, social commerce, image recognition and streamlined experiences to help support mobile-equipped shoppers.

By November of this year, the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmarkforecasts mobile will account for more than 20 percent of site sales and more than 43 percent of site traffic, up from last year as well as earlier this year. Mobile?s role in stores will also be more prevalent at the same time that shoppers? attention spans will be shorter ? a trend that is being driven by the growth in mobile - meaning marketers need to insure their mobile experiences are both engaging and personalized.

?Given the complexity of mobile and the diversity of devices, screen size, landscape/portrait layout, mobile customer experiences are hard to get right,? said Jay Henderson, strategy director at IBM Smarter Commerce. ?Ultimately, shoppers have little tolerance for poor customer experiences.

?To ensure a seamless experience this holiday season, marketers are investing in customer experience technologies to identify customer struggle and quickly resolve onsite problems,? he said.

?To enhance the visitor experience, well-prepared marketers are improving site navigation, providing useful content like how-to guides and user forums, as well as ensuring a consistent brand image across channels.?

Streamlined checkouts
While consumers are thinking about buying swimsuits and sunscreen during the summer months, savvy marketers are finalizing their holiday marketing plans.

From an online perspective, retailers are streamlining the mobile checkout process by reducing the number of clicks required for completing a purchase. One way this is being accomplished is by integrating payment options such as Google Wallet Instant Pay and, which enable users to store their data and pay quickly on participating retail sites.

For example, RueLaLa saw purchase conversions increase by four times for Google Wallet users on its Android app after integrating Instant Buy (see story). 

Social commerce
More marketers are also likely to take advantage of mobile and social to drive real-time commerce opportunities.

For example, Amazon recently unveiled #AmazonCart, which turns any link in a tweet on Twitter into a shopping cart that hooks up with an Amazon account (see story).

Additionally, more marketers will be putting an increased emphasis on creating native apps and Web experiences specifically geared toward tablet users since these users have proven to be very active shoppers. 

For example, Beyond the Rack recently unveiled a tablet-optimized Web site to further push what is already the retailer?s best revenue-per-visit platform (see story). 

In-store impact
While mobile online sales are expected to continue their upward trajectory this holiday season, there is recognition that mobile?s biggest impact is likely to be on influencing in-store sales, which still account for the vast majority of retailers? revenue.

Beacons were still brand new during the 2013 holiday season but have quickly gained steam so far in 2014 and play a big role in the fourth quarter.

Walgreens and Tesco are two of many retailers currently testing iBeacons in their stores.

The devices use Bluetooth Low Energy technology to recognize shoppers when they enter a store, enabling marketers to send offers based on where shopper are inside a store.  Other potential uses include to drive mobile payments and for customer service purposes.

Initial results are promising, with Shoppers who received location-based beacon messages 19 times more likely to interact with the advertised product than those who did not receive a beacon message, according to a recent report from inMarket (see story).

Bridging online with physical
One mobile strategy that could be evident during the upcoming holiday season is the use of image recognition and augmented reality to enable shoppers to point their phones at a shelf or display and see relevant product information.

The new Amazon Fire smartphone, Google?s Project Tango and IBM are all working on their own interpretations of how such capabilities might be used in store. However, it is not clear if the experiences are ready yet for widespread use (see story).  

A key goal for retailers this holiday season will be to use mobile as a way to bridge their online and physical experiences. 

For example, Walmart is rolling out a new platform in stores that is designed to help customers store digital receipts on their Walmart applications and interact with the content in a variety of ways, including to build shopping lists (see story).

Marketers will also be making greater use of mobile advertising to drive consumers into stores or to a Web site to make a purchase. Such strategies are getting increasingly sophisticated, with greater use of geotargeting, video and rich media content, native ads on social and gamification a few of the important trends.

?It is getting harder for marketers to be prepared,? Mr. Henderson said.  ?Consumer attention span continues to dwindle, and marketers know they have to make a splash this holiday season and grab shoppers? attention quickly.

?According to the U.S. National Library Association, the average attention span of an adult is eight seconds ? and those eight seconds shrink to just four when it comes to online shopping,? he said.

?Fueled by the growth of mobile users, who make quick and abbreviated visits to retail sites, online retailers saw average time spent on sites sink to a new low of just 7:09 in September 2013. Page views per session also hit a new bottom of 6.93 in March 2014, two fewer pages than the same period in 2012.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York