A Winning Retail Mobile Strategy Puts Mobile First

"Mobile first" has become a major buzz phrase over the last few years, and with good reason. It's a rallying cry, a way for business leaders across industries to say, "We got the memo. People really love their smartphones and want better mobile experiences. We're on it."

A man enjoying a favorite store's retail mobile strategy on his smartphone
With a strong retail mobile strategy, brick-and-mortar retailers can use technology to drive more in-store sales.

Some industries have needed to work on it more quickly than others, and no one is on a faster track than retailers. Faced with fierce competition from companies that were born in the cloud and growing customer demand for innovative mobile experiences, traditional brands have had to put retail mobile strategy at the top of the priority list.

So, what does mobile first really mean, and what is its value for retail?

Mobile First Means Cloud First

Truly putting mobile first requires more than prioritizing mobile. It means reimagining mobile, no longer viewing it as an extension of the online channel, but an entirely different channel altogether — one that takes priority because it has the potential to drive both online sales and foot traffic.

Thirty-two percent of Americans now purchase items via mobile devices at least monthly, according to PwC Global, and 35 percent said their smartphone will eventually become their main purchasing tool. They also use their mobile devices to aid with in-store shopping. In fact, 56 cents of every dollar spent in a physical store is influenced by a digital interaction, and 37 cents is influenced by mobile, according to Deloitte.

That influence comes in a variety of forms — from mobile search and social media interactions with the brand to in-store navigation. For retailers to interact with customers at all these mobile touch points, they need a lot of new technology. Just as importantly, they need to be able to connect the data from that technology. That's getting easier and easier to do thanks to cloud computing and developer-friendly application programming interfaces (APIs).

For example, by using beacons, geofencing, and other near-field technologies, retailers know when customers are in the vicinity of a physical store and can lure them in with mobile coupons. Better yet, they can send coupons for items that customers have viewed on social media or that complement items they've already bought online.

That level of omnichannel personalization isn't possible when customer data is siloed in various platforms. Retailers must be able to integrate data from mobile apps, e-commerce tools, customer relationship management systems, marketing automation solutions, and communications platforms. Leading cloud vendors understand that and are developing more advanced environments that play nice with other enterprise technology via APIs.

A decade ago, many experts predicted that online shopping would mean the demise of most brick-and-mortar stores. Ironically enough, mobile might be their saving grace.

If You Can't Do It Right, Don't Do It Yet

A strong retail mobile strategy, enabled by cutting-edge cloud technology, pays off online and in-store. Consumers are not only completing more purchases on their mobile devices, but they're also shopping more in-store, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). That includes younger shoppers — nearly half (49 percent) of millennial and Generation Z consumers said they are shopping in stores more than they were a year ago.

A decade ago, many experts predicted that online shopping would mean the demise of most brick-and-mortar stores. Ironically enough, mobile might be their saving grace. But that's only true when mobile experiences help — not hinder — the overall customer experience. Buggy apps that take too long to load, customer support options that are hard to find, and other subpar mobile experiences can drive people away.

Currently, consumers are most satisfied with technologies that streamline the store experience, such as mobile checkout, in-store pickup, and in-app store navigation, according to the NRF report. However, they're not as happy with how retailers are deploying real-time communications. For example, more than 4 in 10 said messaging apps had no impact on their customer experience, while 1 in 10 said it actually made the experience worse.

This makes sense: Real-time communications, such as voice, instant messaging, and video chat, enable mobile customers to connect with customer support and get quick answers to their questions, help finding products, and insights from brand experts. But if the call quality is bad, or if users must log out of one app and into another to access these options, it can be more trouble than it's worth.

A Seamless Retail Mobile Strategy

Smart retailers are investing in cloud-based communications platforms that streamline mobile interactions. For example, communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) connects all of a company's real-time communications features. It also provides APIs that companies can use to embed communications features directly into mobile apps, mobile websites, and social media pages. Then customers can connect with the brand from wherever they are and switch seamlessly from one communication tool to another at their choosing.

Now, that's putting mobile first.

Learn more about how Vonage is empowering retailers to leverage CPaaS and other cloud communications to engage customers and drive business.

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