15 years ago, people started buying things over the web. At first, the internet was nothing more than somewhere you went to check prices and buy low-ticket items...
...If you were buying anything more than an $80 pair of shoes, you'd still want to see the real thing in the flesh. There wasn't a lot of trust for online shopping back then. Online scam artists were ubiquitous, and online shopping as an experience left a lot to be desired.
But over the last 15 years, that's changed in a big, big way.
Now, shopping online isn’t a nerve-inducing thing reserved for small purchases. It's become a part of the entire experience – from researching products right through to navigating the brick & mortar stores themselves. And it's all thanks to mobile.
I’ll talk about some of major effects these changes have had on retail – and what they mean to me, your average, millennial consumer – below.
Research before buying is a given – the winners make the process easy for us
Thanks to smart phones, there's no such thing as a clueless shopper. Nearly everyone in the developed world has millions of pages worth of information at their fingertips.
For me, and most other millennials, that means we do our research before we make any considered purchase. We shop around at different stores' websites. We compare prices. We learn what we should be looking for.
The smartest retailers – the ones at the top of the food chain – know this. They don't see consumers weighing them up against their competitors as a bad thing; they see it as an opportunity. They make the research experience as intuitive and enjoyable as possible...
...They give me the exact information I'm looking for, at just the right time, in a way that's easy to digest. That means cutting down on the fluff and making sure their websites are intuitive to use on any device – phone, tablet or PC.
Online experiences that mirror in-person charm
The stores that stick out in your mind – the ones you enjoy visiting – each have their own unique charm. They aren't somewhere you go to dash in and out. They're an experience.
One consequence of smart phones coming into the mainstream is that they've made us, the consumers, hard to impress. We've seen it all before. We browse online stores when we're on the bus, at work or even working out.
The winners – the retailers still managing to grab our attention online – know this. And so they've started mirroring their in-person charm, that unquantifiable “fizz”, online too.
Take Hollister as an example. Their brand is centred around the SoCal, laid back surfer look. Their in-store experience reflects that. All of their furniture has a rustic, antique feel. They dim the lights. Models rocking board shorts or stonewashed jeans stand outside their stores.
These things contribute to the experience of shopping in one of their stores. It's why they have people queueing all the way down Fifth Avenue in NYC just to get into them.
They've mirrored that experience on their website, too. The images have slightly faded, torn up appearances. The background is a long, sweeping beach. And despite all of this, the website is still intuitive to use – whether you're on the PC, a tablet or your phone.
Hollister – and a lot of other successful retailers – have somehow managed to replicate their in-person, physical magic online. Loading up their website feels like you're walking into one of their stores. And that's just one of the reasons they're still on top.
Mobile as part of the in-store experience, not a replacement
A lot of people like to shout from the rooftops about how online shopping will kill brick & mortar businesses. For the most part, that's nonsense. Sure,someretailers – the ones who struggle to adapt – will be wiped out, but the in-person shopping experience will never be completely replaced.
What is happening, however, is that mobile is becoming a much bigger part of the experience. Even when you're standing in the store itself.
Most major supermarkets, for example, now have apps that let you scan barcodes, look for vouchers and find other nearby stores. Hollister is another great example of this kind of thing. They offer customers a free app that acts as a jeans guide, showing them which size and style will work best for them.
Ultimately, these apps aren't here to replace the in-store experience. They're here to improve it.
The only problem for the retailers who don't adapt is that soon enough this level of service won't been seen as a nice surprise. And the retailers who struggle to adapt to this expectation will get left behind.
In-store, real-time coupons to seal the deal
Even when consumers like me go into the “real world”, our smartphones are still a huge part of the experience. More often than not, I'll still use my phone to compare prices and see who has what in stock.
The savvy retailers know this. They know people using their phones in store will probably be price shopping, too. So to tip the scales, they offer visitors to their website (who're located in or near their stores) a coupon, normally worth a sizeable discount.
Some people see this kind of targeting as a huge breach of privacy. But for most people, like me, it's a win-win situation. The store gets to bag a sale there and then without me paying too much attention to their competitors, and I get to go home with spare change I didn't think I'd have.
Just like with any kind of progress, some retailers will resist these changes. They'll get left behind. The winners, on the other hand, will embrace them before they even hit the mainstream.
Learn more about how Mobility as a Service (MaaS) from Certus can help you put custom apps in the hands of your customers faster than ever before.
by Ben Lawton