Editor's Note: This is part of a series of pieces looking at the year to come that Mobile Marketer will publish throughout January. For more on what to expect in the months ahead, check out our rundown of five of the year's top trends and how in-app marketing will evolve.
By now, it's not exactly a surprise that mobile is having a big impact on retailing. However, last week at the NRF's Big Show conference, the success stories and struggles shared during multiple sessions and meetings made it clear that retailers are still working through challenges and opportunities presented by mobile.
The intersection of retail and mobile was a frequent topic as the retail industry descended upon New York City for one of its largest annual gatherings to discuss the latest developments in a quickly changing segment. While mobile is opening significant new sales opportunities, there is also concern over its negative impact on consumers' wellbeing. Below, Mobile Marketer dissects these and other important ways that mobile and retail will converge in the months ahead.
Mobile commerce reaches another milestone
The online sector still commands a relatively small part of the overall retail market — clicks accounted for just 12% of sales in 2019, according to Commerce Department statistics — but mobile and social will be increasingly crucial for marketers to master as e-commerce evolves into the dominant mode of shopping. As people get comfortable not only browsing but buying directly from their phones and other mobile devices, they will be willing to purchase bigger-ticket products, according to experts at the show. This will open up new opportunities for a more diverse set of brand categories to capture mobile dollars.
"This year, with some of the research we did, Q1 was the first quarter ever where mobile orders were a majority of all e-commerce orders," Hilding Anderson, Publicis Sapient's head of retail strategy, North America, told Mobile Marketer in an interview at the conference. "That means we've kind of solved this problem of friction on the mobile device to a much greater degree than we had before. So people are buying regularly on mobile, even for large-dollar items."
Social commerce will also rise to the top of the agenda for retail marketers looking to translate their dedicated online followings and influencer networks into more direct drivers of sales. Look no further than the moves by Facebook, a company that's hoping to expand the shoppable features that have recently popped up on Instagram across its suite of products to establish a deeper connection with users and advertising partners.
"When I think about commerce in the social space, I think about it less from a brand standpoint –– I'm not marketing Facebook –– I'm thinking about how Facebook or Messenger or WhatsApp enables effective communication," Asher Rapkin, head of global business marketing for Messenger and emerging platforms at Facebook, said during a conference panel. "Now, we're seeing the distance between the individual and the brand dramatically shrink."
Click-and-collect could be a linchpin against Amazon
It's no secret that retailers from Walmart to Albertsons are starting to build more robust advertising offerings in a new land grab around the booming digital market. But one area where legacy players are already leading the pack is click-and-collect, which is experiencing surging consumer adoption, including during crucial sales periods.
"We saw this holiday season a 43% increase in click-and-collect across all retailers year-over-year," Publicis Sapient's Anderson said. "That is a fundamental shift ... The actual institutionalization of that — defaulting to pick up in-store — that's a win-win for customers and for retailers."
Retailers able to capitalize on this momentum could establish a stronger sense of loyalty with customers who end up stopping in for the store experience, even if it's only to pick up goods bought online. That could, in turn, shore up stronger defenses against the encroachment of Amazon, which isn't yet a dominant force on the bricks and mortar front.
"[Retailers are] able to compete more effectively with Amazon," Anderson said of tapping into click-and-collect strategies. "Amazon, even with Whole Foods, doesn't have a meaningful store footprint. It gives you a chance to really bond and build that relationship with the customer."
Influencer marketing becomes about 'social capital'
Moving past squishy metrics like social media "likes" and follower counts has become an imperative for the rapidly maturing influencer marketing space. With the advent of tools like in-app checkout on Instagram, retail marketers will focus their efforts in the months ahead on translating online ambassadorships and vocal fan communities into a commerce play.
"When we look at our marketing strategy, we fundamentally believe that our ability to harness the power of our customers and amplify their voice –– that is our growth strategy," Alicianne Rand, VP of growth marketing at Rent the Runway, said on a panel.
But establishing a deeper sense of trust with influencers will be paramount to convince people to buy. There have been plenty of recent examples of popular influencers failing to get commerce bets off the ground, likely because of fickle audience relationships. Marketers should then focus on the quality of their influencers and depth of messaging built around them versus raw reach and scale, which is often overinflated anyway.
"[We've] really figured out a few guiding principles around how we choose ambassadors and how we get the quality in that storytelling that's going to matter for us," Rand said during the panel.
"The first principle is we care about the power to influence, we don't care about influencers," she said. "Second, we care about social capital, we don't care about social following. And third, we care about the diversity and the quality and the depth of the storytelling experience."
Getting on mobile's good side
Mobile's influence on in-store and online shopping has grown as the concern over the technology's potentially negative impact on consumers' wellbeing has escalated. At the conference, it was clear that some retailers and platforms are taking these concerns seriously and looking for ways to provide customers with an experience that's convenient, fulfills their needs and supports their emotional health. With consumers' expectations increasing around brands and their corporate contributions to society, more retailers could embrace similar strategies in the months ahead.
Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann announced during a conference session that the platform is expanding its in-app tools for helping to improve users' mood to nine additional countries. Dubbed compassionate search, the feature launched last year in the U.S. to prompt users exploring terms like "work anxiety" to take advantage of tools meant to help them relax or practice self-compassion.
While Pinterest is primarily an inspirational idea board for personal projects, people use it to search a wide array of topics, Silbermann noted, adding that compassionate search came out of a feeling of responsibility toward the platform's highly engaged users.
"Back when we started, there was an assumption that if you build tech companies, good things will come," Silbermann said during the session. "What we've learned in past few years is that good things have to be deliberately engineered."
Artificial intelligence (AI) is driving Starbucks' efforts to make a positive impact on the world, including by countering mobile's isolating effect, CEO Kevin Johnson said during a different session.
The brand's AI technology, Deep Brew, frees up employees to spend more time helping customers by taking on tasks like inventory planning and scheduling. These efforts have boosted the chain's customer connection scores and sales, per Johnson.
Starbucks is also experimenting with combining a microphone with Deep Brew so that baristas can place orders via voice and without having to look down to type them in.
"It's about finding ways to help humans find more time to be human," Johnson said.
Can voice humanize e-commerce?
While many marketers are still trying to figure out how to use voice as part of the customer experience, Patrick Gauthier, VP and general manager at Amazon Pay, told Big Show attendees not to wait to start experimenting. In the next three years, 39% of U.S. consumers will be using voice devices for shopping and 20% are likely to make a purchase via voice, according to internal research cited by the executive.
Voice is important to boosting the customer experience, Gauthier said during a session, because people learn to speak before they learn to type, making voice tech more natural to use. Users can speak faster than they type and they don't need to know how to use a device. This means marketers can engage customers on their own terms.
"This is the first step to creating a relationship and making commerce human again," Gauthier said.
Voice also addresses a desire to make a purchase in the moment without having to pick up a device and key in a password. Amazon's research shows that 30% of U.S. consumers rank such in-the-moment purchases as one of the top five reasons to purchase through voice.
There are several ways to get started in voice, with Amazon's research showing that consumers are asking for delivery notifications, shopping lists, reminders like "add this to my list" and advice on purchases.
First moves into voice don't need to be perfect, Gauthier noted, as consumers will provide feedback on how to improve the tech.
"The time is now because the customer is telling us it is," the executive said.