Online, mobile to spark year-end shopping spree

More consumers shopping on online and mobile platforms this holiday season, giving retailers opportunities to mesh Web, mobile and in-store strategies to boost sales, say insiders.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Consumers are expected to go online or turn to their mobile devices more to do their holiday shopping this year, and retailers should get creative and provide a consistent, integrated, multi-platform retail strategy to boost customer satisfaction and sales, urged industry insiders.

Mark Johnson, a lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's Business School, said online shopping is becoming more common worldwide. As such, retailers which are prepared for this will do well while others that don't will struggle, he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

He identified four areas that retailers should look into to capitalize on the online shopping trend. These include selection of merchandise; value; convenience and ease of use; and security.

With regard to merchandise selection, Johnson said people who go online to shop typically are looking for items that are not usually found in physical stores or have competitive pricing and value, such as free shipping.

At the same time, they want the confidence and convenience when they shop online, so merchants should implement safeguards in their systems and inform customers of the steps they have taken to protect user data, he added.

Martin Gill, principal analyst of eBusiness and channel strategy at Forrester Research, pointed out that with Web-based shopping, the number of "touchpoints" have increased from online retail sites to include social media, online forums and mobile apps.

"This year, customer's shopping journeys are more complex than ever. Retailers must ensure their Christmas campaign is joined up and consistent across all touchpoints as shoppers move from one [platform] to another in a single journey," he stated.

For instance, if a merchant's promotes its Christmas range on the Web site but its Facebook page features autumn products, this creates a disjointed message for shoppers, the analyst said.

He also recommended retailers to better understand the influence of one touchpoint over another, and incentivize shoppers across the various platforms via cross-platform offers, loyalty schemes and voucher codes.

Mobile sparks new retail strategies
Beyond online shopping, Gill said mobile will be "even more critical" for this year's holiday shopping.

"Mobile adoption is on the rise across the globe and smartphones, in particular, are the real disrupter. An increasing number of people are using their phones to buy products, and while these are usually impulse, low-consideration purchases, more retailers are also seeing significant purchases through mobile touchpoints," he stated.

That said, while the increase in mobile shopping is good news for companies, Gill noted the "real opportunity" retailers should tap on is the way people use their smartphones to inform their offline shopping experience.

Elaborating, he said retailers that provide services such as mobile store locators or price-comparison apps to help bridge the physical-digital divide are the ones in a "great position to influence the new breed of hyper-connected multi-device buyers".

This is a demographic that habitually shops around before buying, and increasingly uses mobile devices to help with their purchasing process, both online and off, he explained.

Spike in "couch commerce"
Steve Yankovich, vice president of mobile at eBay, reiterated the company is expecting this holiday season to be the "biggest mobile and tablet shopping season yet". Between Dec. 1 and 5, eBay opened a pop-up store in London which had no cash registers and instead items sold there had QR barcode for shoppers to scan with their mobile phone to purchase.

Yankovich said during this year's Thanksgiving weekend, more people headed to their couch after dinner armed with their smartphones and tablets to shop online instead of heading out to retail outlets. eBay intends to capitalize on these trends of mobile shopping and "couch commerce" by delivering inspired, convenient shopping experiences using its technology, the executive noted.

"The lines between offline and online have blurred, and we want to give consumers the best of both worlds by providing them access to both online and offline merchandise any time of day and directly on their mobile phones or tablet devices. With your phone or tablet, the store is wherever you are, and it's always open," said Yankovich.

James Song, head of communications at South Korea-based daily deals site Ticket Monster, agreed that mobile shopping will help satisfy holiday shoppers who want a "hassle-free, fun and easy shopping experience".

This is why Ticket Monster, which was acquired by U.S. daily deals provider LivingSocial in August this year, launched iOS and Android apps in July to cater to consumers' needs as he expects an upsurge in demand for holiday-themed deals such as concerts or travel packages.

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