In this opinion piece, Tim Jenkins of e-Spirit worries about the best way to exploit ecommerce on new devices
Legacy infrastructure is failing to keep up with the increasingly fast developments in technology that are taking place within ecommerce.
A Unified Commerce Platform allows retailers to optimise and provide their customers with a seamless experience across all channels and with consumers continuously seeking a multi-channel experience, brands must ensure they get a consistent message across all touch points.
For many years mobile devices were confined to simple handsets and were largely seen as convenient communications tools. However, the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets has opened up a huge diversity of uses, including keeping up-to-date with news and personal interests; ordering food or taxis in an instant; and providing interactive maps of virtually any location in the world.
Their importance as a sales portal is also growing exponentially and this is overwhelmingly driven by consumer demand. With over 2 billion smartphone users worldwide predicted by the end of 2016, retailers risk being left behind if they do not keep up with this demand and adopt a comprehensive mobile strategy.
A mobile retail strategy is not an option anymore; it should be a primary consideration for all consumer-facing businesses. According to the latest figures from IDC, 18 per cent of worldwide and 40 per cent of US mobile internet users will buy products through their mobile devices this year.
In the UK, a new report from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has shown that UK retailers are missing out on a shocking £6.6 billion per year due to a lack of investment in their mobile offering. This is taking place despite retailers reporting that the mobile share of their online sales almost doubled between 2013 and 2014 from 15 per cent to 28 per cent.
The same report has shown that 15 per cent of consumers now use mobiles as their main shopping device and that these shoppers tend to be more prolific online spenders overall. Separate figures from the IMRG and Capgemini indicated that four in every ten online sales now take place on a mobile device (25 per cent of these on smartphones and 75 per cent on tablets). Clearly mobile sales will soon eclipse other forms of online sales. The question is how can retailers best take advantage of this transition?
It goes without saying that all retailers need to optimise for mobile, and enable a hassle-free functionality to drive fast purchases. Time spent on mobile devices is often relatively brief, and sales could be lost if users have to wade through numerous stages to make a purchase. The most efficient way to do this is through apps, which can enable far higher levels of engagement than traditional mobile websites. Hybrid apps are far less costly to build and maintain than native apps and so are perhaps the best option for many smaller or medium sized retailers. If installed and developed correctly, they can work just as well in practice as native apps.
Another option is responsive web design. This can offer app-like usability, regardless of users’ or developers’ technology knowledge, and without the expense of building individual apps or even dedicated mobile sites.
The additional usability of an app has to be traded off with the requirement for the customer to download the app in the first place. A download app may assist with customer loyalty but could put off the customers first engagement, whereas the responsive design approach enables immediate engagement. The pro’s and con’s of each need to be considered to establish the approach that best meets business and customer goals.
A recent report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) has suggested that existing retail infrastructure, architecture and applications are straining to keep pace with rapid developments in consumer technology and behaviour. This is perhaps especially true for large retailers who have much higher customer bases, visitor number and online purchasers. It is certainly true for the mobile environment where the fastest developments in technology are taking place.
The report validates the critical need for retailers to “redefine their architectural approach” to core merchandising, marketing, supply chain and business administration applications. This could represent nothing less than a complete overhaul of a retailer’s existing systems, as a huge part of the problem is the inability of legacy infrastructure to keep up with developments in consumer technology.
Many retailers are already developing a robust response to this challenge. In a survey of more than 300 retailers, the NRF found that 53 per cent planned to implement some form of Unified Commerce Platform over the next three years to consolidate the key data, business rules and functionality currently housed in multiple silos. Over ten years, the figure rises to 86 per cent. Ideally, these platforms would manage and integrate POS, ecommerce, customer service, CRM, and mobile and web content management. This would allow retailers to optimise their inventory and provide customers with a seamless experience across all channels.
However, this is far easier said than done and there is no consensus as to what a Unified Commerce Platform looks like and how it would work in practice. It is perhaps best thought of as a strategy – a way for CIOs in the retail industry to approach the business and manage their teams. In such a way, a Unified Commerce Platform can bring together a selection of different technologies needed for omnichannel ecommerce, with the content management system at the core of the platform, bringing together the content, processes and applications, and then build on top of this.
The best aspect of this approach is its flexibility – it can evolve as consumer demand changes and develops. So retailers can always adapt and make sure to provide the best possible mobile customer experience to their target groups for maximum impact in terms of customer satisfaction, conversion rates and revenue.
Mobile ecommerce can clearly no longer be an afterthought for a retailer of any size or sector. In fact, it should be fully integrated into a retailer’s systems and strategy. There are many technologies which can enable this integration, all of which can be tailored for individual businesses.
However, it is the mindset which is perhaps most important. Consumers are starting to buy ‘mobile first’, so retailers need to think that way.
The author is Country Sales Director of e-Spirit UK Ltd