Retailers are failing to keep up with mobile shoppers

In this guest post, Peter Noble says that although Australian consumers lead the world for shopping using mobile phones, Aussie retailers are m-commerce laggards.

It’s not as if retail brands haven’t been warned: Australians are in love with the internet and online shopping. It’s an obsession that pervades every aspect of our lives, from banking and browsing to playing, learning and shopping.

So, the results from research by mobile e-commerce company Mobify should not be a surprise. Their analysis of 2012 activity of 200m shoppers on mobile commerce websites, aimed at determining “which nation most often shops on the go”, found that Australians lead the world: 47 per cent of all our traffic to commercial websites comes from mobile devices.

In this we’re way ahead of shoppers in other countries: Brazil was in second place with 40 per cent, while the UK and US trailed with visits from mobile devices accounting for just over 30 per cent of all site traffic.

The sobering message for Australian retailers is there are no borders in a digital world and a lot of browsing is done on overseas sites. While most local retail brands have given some thought to ramping up their online offering, they’ve been left behind in the bigger mobile game.

On his blog, Mobify’s Phil Webb notes that the most obvious benefit of an optimised mobile website is that it improves the user experience for customers; navigation and menus are more user friendly, store locators are easier to access, prices are quicker to find and account logins don’t require a pinch and zoom. And because shoppers can readily and easily access information, “the mobile device is bridging the digital and physical world.”

In focussing on how the lack of a GST for purchases under $1,000 gives overseas retailers an unfair advantage, Australian retailers are ignoring the alienating experience they offer consumers by inadequately tailoring their online presence for different devices. This results in small images, even smaller navigation and practically useless store finders.

We decided to do our own research. We checked with 300 of Australia’s biggest retail brands to see how many provide an optimised mobile shopping experience. The results were disappointing, with only 36 per cent making the experience easy and effective on a mobile device.

The top performers do not only entice customers to shop online. They offer a wealth of information that will encourage customers to visit their store. This helps explain why the best-performing categories were Optical & Eyewear, with 75 per cent of retailers such as OPSM and Specsavers offering an optimised mobile experience, followed by both Food & Drink and Stationery (67 per cent) and Auto Parts & Accessories retailers like Beaurepaires, Bob Jane and Super Cheap Auto (60 per cent). You can’t test eyesight or fit a new car part on a mobile device, but you can make it easy for customers to know what services you offer and help them find your shopfront.

Perhaps the biggest opportunities for improving their m-commerce platform exist for fashion retailers. Young women especially have learned that they can shop reliably online for fashion, given clear information about sizes, colours and return policies, but local retailers such as General Pants Co. and Just Jeans have been slow to take advantage of this. Only 37 per cent of those surveyed have made mobile shopping sites a priority.

While the big retailers, such as Big W and Target, and the major supermarkets are adapting (59 per cent offer an optimised small screen experience for shoppers), several major categories have failed to adapt.

Like fashion retailers, electronics retailers face strong global competition, yet only 38 per cent are tackling these threats head-on. But they did better than sports and homewares, with only 32 per cent and 26 per cent respectively providing a mobile shopping platform. And, if there’s a salutatory tale, it’s for retailers of health and beauty products like Priceline and Chemist Warehouse, languishing at just 22 per cent, leaving online sites such as StrawberryNet.com to thrive at their expense.

In general, Australian retailers are way behind their customers in adapting to the mobile shopping opportunity. They’ve been slow to accept the need for change, despite plenty of warning.

Just over a year ago, Ross McDonald, head of retail at Google Australia, enthused about the impact of mobile technology on online shopping, pointing out that “the number of shopping queries coming from mobile devices increased 220 per cent year on year” and a quarter of all Christmas shopping-related Google searches were from mobile devices.

Twelve months later, he upgraded that assessment, predicting that “this Christmas will be the biggest online Christmas ever, with roughly 40 per cent of shopping searches now coming from smartphones or tablets”.

It seems his prediction has rung true. Online shopping rose sharply in the lead up to Christmas, with online sales jumping 27 per cent in November, which continued beyond Christmas with online spending increasing 28 per cent from Boxing Day to January 14, according to the Australian National Retailers Association.

I know what one of Australian retailers’ priorities should be this year: upgrade their mobile offering early, or risk falling further behind their mobile savvy customers and competitors.

Peter Noble is the CEO of Melbourne digital agency Citrus

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