Business development 18 December 2017

Why mobile-first retail will be vital to ecommerce success in 2018

Smartphones have overtaken desktops as the main channel for online shopping in the UK
Smartphones have overtaken desktops as the main channel for online shopping in the UK

Writing for Business Advice, David Duke, chief operations officer at ecommerce agency Visualsoft, takes a look at why a mobile-first approach will help small retailers capitalise on shifting consumer behaviour in 2018.

As the dust settles following this year’s Black Friday weekend, what characterised the sales was not the scrabbling crowds of previous years, but rather the conspicuous absence of in-store traffic, with reports of many large stores and high streets lying all but empty.

This year, shoppers chose to avoid the crowds and shop on the go, leading to mobile commerce breaking all previous records and becoming the most popular method of shopping for consumers during the Black Friday weekend.

This was backed by research from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which found that smartphones (41 per cent) were the devices most used by consumers for online shopping during the 2017 Black Friday weekend.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look at how mobile commerce is only set to grow as we move into 2018, as well as the importance of businesses adopting a mobile-first mentality when determining their future e-commerce strategy.

How has this technology risen in popularity so far?

Since the launch of the first iPhone ten years ago, smartphones have become an increasingly critical component of our day-to-day lives. In fact, recent research from Deloitte found that, in total, UK citizens alone look at their smartphones more than a billion times a day.

The smartphone has had a particularly dramatic effect on the way we buy goods online. Initially, the trend saw customers using their phones to research potential purchases on mobiles and tablets, but making the final purchase either in-store or on a desktop. This meant that tangible, measurable mobile sales were relatively low.

For example, in 2014 House of Fraser became one of the first UK retail brands to bring a mobile-first website to market. At this point, more than half of their website traffic came from mobile devices, whereas actual sales from mobiles only accounted for 27 per cent of online sales.

More recently, however, we’ve seen a marked change in how consumers use their mobiles to shop.

Find out more about how to remain competitive in ecommerce in 2018

Mobile is set to become even more critical  

As advancing technology has created simpler, more intuitive shopping experiences, consumers have become far more comfortable and confident using their phones to actually shop “on the go”.

This has led to mobile-first retail slowly gaining ground against online retail. The tipping point came in February 2016, when mobile first overtook desktop as the channel on which 51 per cent of online sales were completed.

However, 2017 has been the year when mobile-first retail has truly come into its own. This year’s Cyber Monday was a particular eye-opener, with more than half of all UK sales between 6am and 9pm being attributed to a mobile device.

Mobile apps are also set to become even more critical as we move into 2018, with leading mobile insights business AppAnnie finding that worldwide consumer spend over mobile shopping apps is set to smash all previous records, to exceed £82m in 2018.

Looking further forwards, a recent research report from OC&C Strategy Consultants, Google and PayPal forecasted that by 2020 around two thirds of online retail – worth around £43bn annually – in the UK would be conducted via mobile, with four in five transactions involving a smartphone at some point in the purchase journey.

How can businesses capitalise on this as we move into 2018?

Considering that we’re looking at our smartphones more than a billion times a day, there is a tremendous opportunity for forward-thinking businesses who operate with a mobile-first mentality, making a proactive effort to engage mobile customers.

The greatest opportunity here arguably lies in what Google affectionately refers to as “micro moments”, where a consumer idly uses their phone to kill time, check their email/social media channels, and browse the sites of their favourite retail brands.

Shifting focus towards the engagement of consumers during these “micro-moments” could transform the relationship between mobile and high street retail, creating a truly omnichannel experience.

A well-designed mobile site can be used to engage impulse buyers who are idly browsing or researching products, and investing in omnichannel logistics services such as click and collect can then convert this engagement into sales.

We recently commissioned research which underpins this, finding that almost one in three of consumers expect to be offered a click and collect option as a matter of course.

To facilitate this, retailers also need to consider implementing responsive web design. This term refers to a set of design techniques which allow websites to fit comfortably on both desktop and mobile devices, giving browsers the best of both worlds.

Prominent UK retailers, such as The Body Shop, have recently adopted a mobile-first approach, and those who do not follow are likely to miss out on the modern, digitally-focused consumer.

Overall, it is clear that mobile commerce is only set to become even more critical as we enter 2018, with our preference for shopping on our smartphones set to become the norm rather than the preserve of bumper retail holidays such as the Black Friday weekend.

It’s now slightly over ten years since the iPhone kicked off the “smartphone revolution”, meaning it is no longer some “emerging trend” – an estimated four in five UK adults now own a smartphone, and the high street is no longer enough. Because of this, retailers need to embrace mobile-first retail now, or risk playing catch-up as we move into 2018.

David Duke is chief operations officer at e-commerce digital marketing agency Visualsoft

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