Why Black Friday (As We Know It) Is Dead

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Tell Us About 2016

It’s never too soon to begin thinking about the holiday shopping season. As more businesses are choosing to follow retail and outdoor recreation services corporation REI’s lead and “opt out” of Black Friday, brands have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to reach consumers in innovative ways.

Last year, smartphones sales generated $19.3 billion in revenue — 31 percent of total holiday purchases. However, as desktop visits converted at 2.4 times the rate of smartphone visits, it appears consumers may rely on their smartphones to research but prefer the desktop to transact.

Gordon White, general manager at The Social Client, an Acticall Sitel Group recently took time to offer insight on how brands can leverage the most popular tools/apps coming to shoppers’ smartphones this holiday season — plus, how brands can opt for a “smarter” smartphone shopping strategy to convert mobile browsers to mobile buyers.

Q: Why do retailers need to prioritize mobile as a key communication and engagement channel?

White: Reports show mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) is on track to account for half of all online sales by the year 2020 — worth nearly $250 billion annually. And while m-commerce growth has certainly contributed to a decline in foot traffic, it is also true mobile is playing an increasingly large role in-store. Initial showrooming fears have given way to strategies that use mobile to augment the in-store experience.

Customers that are out and about clearly expect more from mobile devices and applications while shopping in-store. Mobile, in-store experiences can help smooth out some of the things retailers aren’t doing as well today, and even introduce new experiences that help shoppers better curate and customize their trip.

Mobile engagement becomes even more important as brands — including Macy’s — report reduced staffing levels during the holidays. With that, now is the time to feed into consumers’ desire to self-serve by enabling them to digitally navigate the store on their own whether it’s quickly locating particular items, accessing inventory availability and pricing, or finding promotions and checkout easily.

If retailers want to stay competitive as we approach a more mobile future, designing and implementing a “smart” smartphone strategy ahead of the holiday season is an absolute imperative.

Q: How can the brick-and-mortar store still add value through consumer’s use of smartphones?

White: There is a huge opportunity for physical retailers to leverage and capitalize on mobile as 80 percent of shoppers use mobile phones inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternate store locations.

The challenge brick-and-mortar stores face, however, is not getting left behind as online purchases continue to experience year-over-year growth at their expense. To put it in perspective, in Q4 2016 m-commerce alone accounted for more than $22 billion in revenue; 21 percent of total digital commerce dollars for that quarter and up 45 percent from a year prior.

The key is for retailers to leverage mobile technology — whether through apps, chatbots, virtual assistants, etc. — to enhance the in-store experience, offer convenience and ease-of-use to customers, and provide additional value to the digital/physical interaction.

Additioally, it’s important retailers get the basics right and use mobility in ways that acknowledge and add value to the customer. Exploring ways to authenticate in-store shoppers and linking their in-store (i.e. physical) and digital purchases would allow a retailer to make suggestions or upsell as they shop. Leveraging technology is also an easy, seamless way to solve problems. For instance, adding items not available in-store to a virtual cart and handling the entire purchase with one check-out process. Virtual items can then be delivered to the customer’s home.

Q: What benefits can retailers that make their web sites, products, prices, coupons, and loyalty programs accessible via mobile devices expect?

White: It may seem counterintuitive, but smartphones are actually boosting in-store satisfaction. Reports show, while in-store shopping frequency has stayed the same over the past year, in-store satisfaction rates have increased by 7 percent. These findings indicate there is a clear return on investing in the “mobile friendliness” of a retailer’s online platforms — whether it’s your website, loyalty card, coupons, etc. —as 74 percent of shoppers would shop at a retailer that provided a better mobile in-store experience over their competitors.

Q: How important it is for retailers to have a mobile app?

White: Many brands still consider mobile tools, like apps, to be supplementary to their brand image rather than a core part of their CX program. It is critical brands focus on building mobile into their strategies as consumers currently spend an average of five hours a day on their phones.

Whether it’s an app, or just a better mobile-enabled web site, mobile is pivotal when it comes to maintaining customer loyalty. As Gen Z will be the world’s largest shopping cohort in just three years, brands must pivot quickly to prepare for the expectations of these mobile and socially empowered digital natives, including: the ability to connect directly and immediately with the brand, omni-digital experiences that flow seamlessly from one device to another, speed and efficiency, inventory transparency, members-only perks, free shipping, and more.

Q: How can retailers deliver contextual relevancy to their customers?

White: The first step is to build a digital connection and relationship based on mutual value. After all, if you can’t recognize a person’s needs and build a comprehensive view of their behavior, you’ll have a hard time delivering on relevance. Loyalty programs are helpful here but certainly not the only way to deliver on the value equation.

The second is to invest in and make available (from a digital and human services perspective) the right data and tools to both access past shopping behavior and to predict and promote future behavior. This ability to predict a next action is what will drive recommendation engines both online and in store.

The third is to build the right agility and intelligence into your platforms — web, mobile, and messaging — that allows retailers to respond to individual customer behavior and external stimulus. If I’m walking into Sears on a beautiful sunny day, I probably won’t be as receptive to a sale on umbrellas. It’s a highly simplistic example but many brands still haven’t figured out the basics.

The payoff here will be significant, as consumers are more loyal, and spend more, when they receive personalized attention during their customer journey. A recent report shows the majority of consumers (70 percent) make their purchasing decisions without ever having contact with a sales representative, and yet nearly the same amount (72 percent) appreciate when sales reps engage with them and offer contextually relevant information.