Smartphones are man's new best friend. They may not be furry, but these loyal companions act as handy guide dogs during the average consumer's adventures through retail. With the Internet at their fingertips, shoppers have the power to research product details, compare pricing, and share deals with friends via social media no matter where they are in their journey.
"Shoppers nowadays are increasingly using mobile phones as their personal assistants-from getting directions to the nearest store, to retrieving and recording their shopping lists, to assisting them with shopping decisions," says Joyce Chen, head of loyalty solutions and mobile commerce at Acxiom. "Just a few years ago, shoppers would have to plan ahead before each trip. Today, they no longer need to sit in front of their computers to make those decisions. This essentially empowers consumers with their shopping decisions and enhances their experience."
For consumers, mobile adoption has been gradual, with the average user's habits evolving alongside technology. But for companies, mobile now represents an immovable channel, bringing increased opportunities for meaningful customer engagement to the table. However, many have yet to move to the next level of customer engagement for increased revenue opportunities.
But, as mobile-optimized websites and mobile applications continue to gain momentum, understanding customer interactions and intentions remains at the heart of creating a concrete engagement strategy.
Hear What They Say, Understand What They Do
When customers decide to purchase, they invest time, energy, and money into researching the item and making an educated decision, says Michael Lebeau, CEO at WELD Media. By knowing how and when customers engage via mobile, companies have the ability to push out relevant content at the very moment the customer needs that information. They must understand the state of the individual interacting with these mobile optimized websites in order to pinpoint what's timely.
"Mobile users expect ever-faster, ever-easier transactions 24/7," says Theresa M. Szczurek, CEO at Radish Systems. "Retailers need to understand their market and how best to address their mobile market's needs to maximize the mobile user experience. They must be nimble and be technology innovators. Firms are struggling to offer good mobile customer service that increases customer satisfaction and transaction completions."
Mobile applications continue to gain popularity, yet it's vital for companies to make an effort to optimize their mobile Web presence as well. Many consumers bypass the app download when doing research, leading them to explore the mobile website instead. However, if load times are slow or content seems irrelevant, customers are more apt to quit quicker. As Kelly Weinhold, product strategist at Angel, notes, only 41 percent of users report downloading an app for customer service, meaning the majority of customers seeks out information on the Web.
Jason Wells, CEO at ContactPoint emphasizes that customers often do their research and make their decision before they even reach the retail location, meaning companies must be ready to engage at every point of the customer lifecycle in an appropriate manner.
"When it comes to mobile advertising, companies need to find the consumer at the right point in time," Wells says. "You wouldn't expect commercials to pop up every 15 minutes when you're at the movies. Companies must understand the customer's journey and when will mobile touch the customer."
Build a Bridge Between Online and Offline Interactions
Our smartphones are extensions of ourselves, says Doug Heise, product marketing director at CoreMedia. Because most users typically develop an emotional and intellectual connection with their devices, these gadgets become an integral part of our daily lives-and an ideal channel for developing both online and offline relationships.
Numerous brands have begun to embrace mobile not just as an informational channel, but as an engagement channel as well. For instance, Merrell offers its "Go Barefoot" app, which takes the customer experience to the next level by providing a service to the customers by not just being the product they wear on their feet, but also their physical training partner. Walgreens engages customers on another level, by allowing pharmacy customers to easily refill their prescriptions. Customers need only scan the label's barcode using their smartphone cameras and the pharmacy will automatically process the order.
These companies have taken the tools available and incorporated mobile into their overall engagement strategy in order to bridge the gap between pre-purchase and post-purchase interactions. By looking upon such examples, other companies will find they, too, have an opportunity to expand upon the typical retailer/consumer relationship.
As Eric Feinberg, senior director of mobile, media, and entertainment at ForeSee, highlights, the most important takeaway strategists should derive from these trends is that the company must understand the mobile experience from the user's perspective. While fiscal returns and conversion rates are essential for success, satisfaction weighs heavily in the purchase and post-purchase stages. Cultivating loyalty means building solid relationships from the ground up. The key to moving forward is learning what drives customer behavior.