Mobile Tech: Wave of the Future

Edi­tor’s note: I am quot­ed in this arti­cle on mobile tech­nol­o­gy so I thought I would share. — Jere­my

By Maria Weiskott — Gifts and Decorative Accessories Magazine, December 2013 issue

Indi­vid­u­al­ized cus­tomer ser­vice: There’s an “app” for that. Rela­tion­ship build­ing: there’s an “app” for that too. Enjoy­able shop­ping expe­ri­ence? Indeed, there’s an “app” for that as well…and then some.

Respon­sive design” of web­sites cre­ates dif­fer­ent screen looks from desk­top to mobile phone for a more pos­i­tive user expe­ri­ence.

Because as we know, when it comes to retail, cus­tomers most always get their way. So, yes, the build­ing blocks of sol­id brick-and-mor­tar retail­ing-like “shop­ping expe­ri­ence” and “cus­tomer service”-now have com­pa­ra­ble dig­i­tal appli­ca­tions, or apps. And more are on the way.

Whether it’s busi­ness-to-busi­ness or busi­ness-to-con­sumer, users are insist­ing that online retail inter­ac­tion must occur as seam­less­ly and as eas­i­ly as it does face-to-face. Addi­tion­al­ly, users insist as well that inter­ac­tion must be able to occur ide­al­ly on all avail­able elec­tron­ic plat­forms: desk­top com­put­ers, tablets, smart phones, you name it.

Dri­ven by over­whelm­ing demand from users, advances in retail tech­nol­o­gy are occur­ring at a pace that is fre­net­ic and unpar­al­leled. And there is no end in sight for the fore­see­able future.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Accord­ing to a recent report by Accen­ture, a glob­al man­age­ment con­sult­ing com­pa­ny, “retail­ing will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50.” This phe­nom­e­non will occur, the report states, because “con­sumer uptake of new com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies has con­tin­ued to com­press over the past 125 years.”

The report con­sid­ers radio as an exam­ple of ear­li­er con­sumer adop­tion of tech­nol­o­gy. “It took more than 30 years to achieve a con­sumer adop­tion rate of 50 per­cent. Mobile phones took only 15 years to reach the same lev­el, and social media, a mere 3.5 years,” the report notes.

The mes­sage for retail­ers is sim­ple: While you had lit­er­al­ly decades to per­fect your radio-era go-to-mar­ket strat­e­gy, with social media you will be lucky to get a year, and in the future, a year might be a best-case sce­nario,” the Accen­ture report advis­es.

As a new year comes into view on the hori­zon, it is becom­ing appar­ent exact­ly which tech­nol­o­gy trends are mov­ing to the fore­front, find­ing favor on the retail land­scape and which have become entrenched as the new normal…if only in tech time.

From Mobility to Mensa

It was just a bit more than a decade ago that mobile, or ‘cell’ phones were con­sid­ered the next-best-thing-since in door-plumb­ing (or sliced bread… whichev­er). But acclaim­ing them for their ‘mobil­i­ty’ today would be so last cen­tu­ry-make that so last mil­le­ni­um.

If there were a Men­sa orga­ni­za­tion for mobile phones, today’s smart phones would sure­ly be in it. Not only have this hour’s ver­sion of smart phones become a vital con­nec­tion to the world, they have become in dis­pens­able to the large major­i­ty of adults who use them for accom­plish­ing myr­i­ad tasks rang­ing from bill pay­ing, to mak­ing bank deposits, to scan­ning prices and coupons, to find­ing the near­est gift shop, to we broom­ing; all rea­sons why they are becom­ing espe­cial­ly indis­pens­able to the retail sec­tor as well.

In the com­ing year-2014-the mar­ket will wit­ness a tremen­dous shift to mobil­i­ty in user pref­er­ence for access­ing the Inter­net. As it now stands, 25 per­cent of web users only access the Inter­net with mobile devices.

When com­bined with tablets, “mobile devices will become the most com­mon way for peo­ple to access the Inter­net,” Jere­my

Mobile devices will become the most com­mon way for peo­ple to access the inter­net … with phones and tablets [more] than with desk­tops and tablets. Jere­my Hirsch Aptus Dig­i­tal

Hirsch tells Gifts and Dec­o­ra­tive Acces­sories. “In oth­er words, more peo­ple will access the web via phones and tablets than with desk-tops and lap­tops,” adds Hirsch, founder and pres­i­dent of Aptus Dig­i­tal, a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tan­cy.

But it is the phone that retail­ers find most chal­leng­ing. Dur­ing the 2012 hol­i­day sea­son, more than half of adult cell phone own­ers used their phones while they were in a store to seek help with pur­chas­ing deci­sions. Accord­ing to a Pew Inter­net & Amer­i­can Life research project con­duct­ed in Jan­u­ary 2013, dur­ing a 30-day peri­od before and after Christ­mas:
• 38 per­cent of cell own­ers used their phone to call a friend while they were in a store for advice about a pur­chase they were con­sid­er­ing mak­ing.
• 24 per­cent of cell own­ers used their phone to look up reviews of a prod­uct online while they were in a store, and
• 25 per­cent of adult cell own­ers used their phones to look up the price of a prod­uct online while they were in a store, to see if they could get a bet­ter price some­where else.

 “Tak­en togeth­er,” the report states, “just over half (52 per­cent) of all adult cell own­ers used their phone for at least one of these three rea­sons over the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son and one third (33 per­cent) used their phone specif­i­cal­ly for online infor­ma­tion while inside a phys­i­cal store-either prod­uct reviews or pric­ing infor­ma­tion,” accord­ing to the Pew report.

I just have to stand there and lis­ten to them talk­ing about my dis­plays,” a retail­er bemoaned to GDA dur­ing a recent inter­view. “It’s infu­ri­at­ing,” he said, “espe­cial­ly when they leave the store with­out mak­ing a pur­chase!”

Can You See Me Now?!

With web access by smart phone becom­ing even more pop­u­lar, it will be imper­a­tive that a com­pa­ny’s web offer­ings are uni­form in appear­ance across all plat­forms-includ­ing mobile. If a com­pa­ny’s web offer­ings “appear decent only on desk­top screens,” that com­pa­ny will be exclud­ing a large major­i­ty of its “cus­tomers who only use mobile,” Hirsch advis­es.

Retail­ers have been invest­ing in gen­er­al eCom­merce sites for a few years,” he acknowl­edges. “But as their cus­tomers have been spend­ing a lot more time on mobile phones and tablets, retail­ers need to be sure that their web­sites present the prod­ucts in a com­pelling and effec­tive way,” he adds.

Eric Dean, pres­i­dent of Where­ow here is also con­vinced mobile will con­tin­ue to gain ground among users. “The mobile world is front and cen­ter in the gift and home indus­try,” he says. “Where­oware’s online bench­mark index report­ed mobile traf­fic on B2B web­sites rose 86 per­cent in Q3 2013. Mobile email growth is even more pro­nounced-up 353 per­cent over last year. ”

Going for­ward, Hirsch advis­es that respon­sive design is a ‘best prac­tice’ in cre­at­ing retail com­merce sites. “With this type of design, a web­site changes how it presents the web pages based on screen res­o­lu­tion.” When designed this way, pages on PC screens look dif­fer­ent than on a mobile phone, he explains, adding, “The ben­e­fit is a much more pos­i­tive user expe­ri­ence-result­ing in more sales for the retail­er.”

KISS-Keeping it Simple, Still

A web­site blue­print geared to achieve a pos­i­tive user expe­ri­ence, as always, includes being user friend­ly as well as respon­sive on all plat­forms; the goal for which Brand wise aimed in the recent redesign of its com­pa­ny web­site.

Com­pa­ny spokesper­son Bri­anne Houck says the new web­site’s “clean lay­out, mod­ern look and feel, and easy nav­i­ga­tion is geared toward guid­ing exist­ing and poten­tial cus­tomers in access­ing the infor­ma­tion they want, quick­ly. Not only that,” she adds, “but it’s opti­mized to adapt to Agile Mar­ket­ing, much like the Agile process that Brand wise uses in soft­ware devel­op­ment.”

Dur­ing rede­vel­op­ment, Brand wise also sim­pli­fied the new web­site by reduc­ing to five, the num­ber of its key flag­ship prod­ucts, from 11 “hard to under­stand prod­ucts,” Houck explains.

The five flag­ship prod­ucts focus on use cas­es and offer add-ons for a tru­ly cus­tomiz­able solu­tion,” she says.

Cus­tomers can now iden­ti­fy key areas they want to improve with­in their busi­ness, such as order tak­ing, prod­uct pre­sen­ta­tions, report­ing, grow­ing online sales, etc., and eas­i­ly find a solu­tion to accom­mo­date their needs, and then add on options from there,” Houck notes.

Less is More (Again)

Fol­low­ing years of adding any num­ber of bells and whis­tles to their web­sites, com­pa­nies might want to con­sid­er get­ting back to basics soon­er rather than lat­er, (remem­ber the core com­pe­ten­cy mantra?) and declut­ter, experts advise.

While cus­tomer ser­vice is still the bot­tom line where retail is con­cerned, with so many retail entry points, the retail­er is seri­ous­ly chal­lenged to serve each entry point equal­ly. Because not only does the cus­tomer want ser­vice, the cus­tomer wants ser­vice to be seam­less. Cus­tomers want to be able to browse (web­room­ing), price check, size check, order, pur­chase and return on any plat­form whether online or in store, dur­ing busi­ness hours or after hours.

When faced with these require­ments, Where­owhere’s Dean sug­gests that the indus­try take the age-old advice of Occam’s Razor: “when faced with com­pet­ing hypoth­e­sis, you should select the one with the fewest assump­tions.”
“In oth­er words,” quips Dean, “keep it sim­ple and easy.”

Dean says that although the Razor is 150 years old, the prin­ci­ple still applies to our fast-paced, clut­tered lives. And nowhere is this more rel­e­vant, he notes than in the online world. “Look­ing for­ward to 2014, the con­cept of ‘less is more’ will cer­tain­ly con­tin­ue to trend upward in impor­tance and should be front of mind for those look­ing to stand out in a very crowd­ed online mar­ket­place,” the exec­u­tive says.

And giv­en the explo­sive growth of mobile web use, the impor­tance of ‘less is more’ only increas­es in impor­tance. Lim­it­ed space on hand­held screens forces econ­o­my; mak­ing sim­ple, con­cise mes­sag­ing imper­a­tive in email and on the web, accord­ing to Dean.

Our mobile world makes more white space, few­er but­tons, intu­itive and click-friend­ly calls-to-action, and a sim­pli­fied user expe­ri­ence the new rule,” he says.

Dean points out Twit­ter, which grew quick­ly on the con­cept of mak­ing users con­dense their mes­sages into 140 char­ac­ters, as rep­re­sent­ing the suc­cess of the ‘less is more’ con­cept. “In just a few short years, Twit­ter’s pop­u­lar­i­ty explod­ed to over 400 mil­lion tweets per day, set­ting the stage for a block­buster IPO,” he notes. “This feat is due, in part, to the ease that users can quick­ly con­sume, dis­cuss, and share infor­ma­tion,” he adds.

Whether you are a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing pro, a small mom and pop busi­ness, or a For­tune 500 cor­po­ra­tion, you are in a cut­throat, glob­al com­pe­ti­tion for your cus­tomers’ atten­tion,” Dean warns.

Regard­less of who the cus­tomers are, how­ev­er, they hear and see adver­tise­ments and prod­ucts on their TVs, radios, com­put­ers, tablets and smart phones, vir­tu­al­ly 24/7, Dean says, adding that in this non­stop dig­i­tal age, only the best ‘less is more’ mes­sen­gers can cut through the clut­ter and noise to win cus­tomers’ brief atten­tion.


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