This article first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Marketing magazine.


Why do we resist change and become so protective of the past? History shows that everyone, from countries and corporations to small businesses, must learn to evolve in order to survive.

We no longer wander the forests picking berries and spearing wild animals. We no longer have open sewers and many major diseases. We neither feed our horse on the way to work nor scribe with quills and ink wells. So why do we fight and struggle against change?

OK, maybe the pace of change driven by technology makes adjusting to change challenging. Back in the late ’90s, many new phrases relating to ‘web years’ were introduced as changes came thick and fast. The internet, web, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), narrow casting, email and so many other advances were confronting to an older generation still pining over the retirement of their favourite horse and cart.

But now bring on mobile, and ‘web years’ are an insult referencing how slowly you do something. Mobile and wireless advances are becoming daunting for even the more hardened technologist. But, yet again, there is a generation of resistance waiting for this technology to mature, like waiting for the second release of a new typewriter or model of car.

These days, however, mobile and wireless technology won’t mature as much as it will morph into something new. It will deviate, change and expand well before it’s depreciated off the balance sheet. Those that wait before embarking into the world of mobile will simply keep facing something new. It certainly isn’t a continual revolution as much as a rapid evolution, but the pace of change won’t end for some time. This rapid evolution of technology presents new opportunities almost daily.

Forget the concept of early adopters with mobile. By the time an idea, concept, product or campaign mechanic reaches the ‘mass market’ phase, it’s already superseded by the next thing. It’s like a continuous travelator; you just have to get on at some stage and start riding the wave.

I’ve written about this many times over the last three years, but it became even more evident after recent trips through Asia and the US. Nifty mobile executions, applications and campaign ideas are no longer the invention of niche creative geeks convincing unknown brands to experiment. Major brands and the largest agencies in Asia and the US are doing some great things: creative, exciting, inventive and, most importantly, consumer engaging and compelling things. In most cases, their endeavours achieve impressive ROIs and create some level of consumer participation. The next campaign adapts the model and there is this continually evolving mobilisation of ideas.

Interestingly, in a single shopping mall, I saw a unified loyalty shopping program driven by mobile and branded in every retail outlet. There are some great things happening overseas and yet in Australia we seem to continue resisting change to our own detriment.

Perhaps the problem is with this country. We fight to retain manufacturing, by doing everything possible except considering change. Maybe we don’t need manufacturing and we should rethink our economic structures to evolve and find a new segment. Accept it: things change and those who get on the ride early are generally rewarded.

That brings us to retail. There are many debates about the demise of retail at the hands of online stores, and the imbalance between traditional retail models and those of the online world. Retail heavyweights have tried to apply controls to online to give store owners a level playing field instead of accepting web, mobile and emerging technology, and trying to integrate with the real world of ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing.

The evolution of mobile-centric initiatives is not being driven by technologists as much as it is by the consumer. In the last two years, it’s the consumer that has been hungry for mobile apps, mobile gimmicks and mobile web. In fact, anything mobile. Consumers immerse themselves in the world of messaging, web and social media, and are the ones driving brands and companies to deliver new and exciting things that they can control, all from their handset.

Consider the fact that the majority of all private email is now read from a mobile. How many direct marketing email campaigns carefully consider the call to action being mobile friendly? Of the 30 or so ‘marketing’ emails I get a day, less than 10 percent link off to a mobile friendly website. Only one has used geolocation to drive me in-store. The best indicator of this is to look at your web stats and check out the bounce rate: how many link to the main page, then exit? One retail customer that we recently mobilised went from around a 20 percent bounce rate for an email campaign to less than five percent.

Back to the dilemma facing retailers… It is no longer online versus physical shops. The smart thinkers are now combining strategies and realising that online has many drawbacks, as does physical retailing, but by combining both you can leverage one to support the other.

It was astonishing to me to discover that online retailers suffer heavily from returns: wrong sizes, ‘doesn’t suit’, ill fitting, colour not quite as expected and a myriad challenges from shopping in a virtual world. And I’m not talking single digit percentages, but significant amounts. In the US, I found one online store that as a matter of standard process sends out a return bag, just in case. Another sends out a size either side of what you order with a return satchel for the ones you don’t need.

Shopping with your fingers in a virtual world is convenient and, in many respects, impulse driven. But the ROI in many cases is questionable for the online store. Using your feet to shop with physical in-store browsing has its challenges of waiting in a queue to pay and lugging around bags. Recent consumer surveys are starting to reflect a new consumer frustration: the browse and discovery process.

Not unlike the music industry in the dawn of online downloads is the whole issue of browse and discovery. Consumers on the whole, especially females, enjoy wandering through stores browsing and discovering new things – walking through aisles of gadgets, gimmicks and funky accessories. The discovery process is critical for product manufacturers, as it gives them the ability to offer new and exciting inventions, designs and colours.

Online retailing, especially in the snacking world of mobile, is so much more targeted for a consumer that knows what they want. The whole discovery process online is difficult, frustrating and rarely embraced by a consumer. Despite being able to get a wealth of funky cheap widgets on eBay, I still enjoy strolling through the aisles of a $2 shop looking for some weird gizmo or gadget.

Take a look in any major department stores or electrical retailer and you’ll see people using their mobile to compare prices and products. It’s clear: consumers enjoy using their feet to discover, touch, try on and explore products in physical shops and then use their mobile to compare and sometimes buy online at better prices.

It’s time for ‘feet to meet fingers’, for retailers to accept the new shopping behaviour, to stop complaining about online and to stop waiting to embark on new ideas. Combine the real world and the online world. Retailers will always win the consumer in-store for the browse and discovery process. So, capture them on their device in-store and let them complete the purchase from their mobile and have it delivered or ready for collection at a later date.

Who hates Christmas shopping? For me, it’s not the crowds or wandering through stores trying to decide what to buy. It’s the checkout queues and the lugging of bags to the car. In the last few months, I have seen and read about a rising groundswell of different initiatives all centric to the same objective: use your mobile in-store to complete the purchase. Some have been very basic ‘snap and pay’ type solutions requiring 2D barcodes like QR (Quick Response) codes and others have been more advanced, utilising existing linear barcodes with an on-device app that is pre-authenticated to the store’s Wi-Fi network and can even check inventory, your loyalty and discount level, and allows completion of purchase for home delivery.

No one solution will dominate and each solution I’ve seen has had a ‘raw’ part to it. But these are retailers accepting change, embracing mobile and leveraging the power of a consumer’s desire to discover being in-store with the convenience and simplicity of mobile commerce for the final fulfilment. Those that sit back waiting for technology refinement, a dominant solution or for others to try first will simply miss out. If I’ve already got three shopping apps on my phone from a major department store, a shopping mall and my favourite casual shop, then the likelihood of more is remote.

The mind starts to boggle with the many ideas that can be applied in order to bring mobile into real world retail. Recognising a loyal customer in-store and offering a deal… Christmas shopping at a mall, all paid via mobile and home delivered… Being able to link a warranty with the customer and remind them to take out extended warranties on electrical goods or remind them after a year to extend… Offering compendium products to the one they just ordered and explaining in which aisle they can find the item to try it on or test it out.

The innovation doesn’t stop there. When you close your store, why not have featured items in the window or use large digital screens and allow consumers to snap a barcode, complete the purchase and have products home delivered? Your retail window is now a 24/7 shopping experience. Bus shelters and posters at railway stations can now be a transaction point. Think beyond ‘text to win’ calls to action on bus shelters and allow waiting commuters to actually buy the product on display.

Competing with online isn’t about trying to change pricing and tax issues. It’s about understanding the change in consumer behaviour, accepting the role mobile now plays for consumers and bringing people in-store for all the positives, and using mobile to remove the negatives.

 

Homepage image courtesy of F Bellon, via Flickr

 

Joe Barber
BY Joe Barber ON 8 January 2012
Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of Edge80.com with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.