Shopping in the fourth dimension

    This holiday season some retailers are placing more emphasis on the mobile experience in an attempt to drive greater consumer focus both in the store and online.


    The smartphone provides the union of the physical and digital worlds and, through this device, the retailer can build an omnichannel solution for all occasions. The result is a ‘store’ where it no longer matters if the consumer is online, in the store or even online while in the store. As long as the ultimate sale remains within the retailer’s channels then all is well with the world.

    To this end, retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy leveraged their apps to drive alerts to the consumer’s smartphone over the Thanksgiving weekend, keeping them informed of the latest deals in the stores to keep the consumers engaged. But is it enough? While the alerts may have worked to an extent, raising awareness of the latest deals, did they drive significant increases in store traffic? As we saw over the same period, retailer apps are still not part of the day-to-day consciousness of the connected shopper. Indeed, the retailer websites still drove more consumer views than the apps suggesting that while the alerts help, on their own they are not enough.

    Part of the problem is that the smartphone is limited to being a medium to one of the two store environments. The purpose, as we suggest above, is to be the glue between online and retail, and for many that simply means driving the immediate sale. As a result, many consumers will perceive that the app is only useful as a price-checking solution. This limited functionality sells the mobile experience short.

    New platforms such as mobile require a new approach, driving new functionality that improves the consumer’s experience. Without such a step, we make the rather false assumption that the new mobile platform will be successful due to its convenience (ie, the fact that it is in your pocket) and that replicating the current view of the world is enough. But convenience alone is not a particularly compelling driver for new consumer behaviour. Rather, convenience is what drives consumers to the website instead of the specific app and is quickly overtaken by usefulness if there is a better alternative. The fact that retailer app use is significantly less than the website use suggests that these apps are not convenient or useful enough.

    In many sectors, the retail experience needs to evolve from being a purely transactional environment to one that is relationship-based in nature. The ability to improve the customer’s (physical, in-store) browsing experience will be fundamental to building a better solution and the smartphone can play a major role in this. For example, being able to explore how a streaming media device can be attached (what cables do I need?) and why a consumer may even want such a device are easy targets for a smartphone. The result is that the phone can provide a greater depth of product and solution information than is possible within the physical confines of a store. In effect, the smartphone can provide a fourth dimension to the physical experience, helping to explain more than features and specs of a device.

    Some early examples of this already exist, according to the recent Shopping on Smartphones report. For example, CVS’s mobile app provides details of drug interactions and side-effects, thus helping customers understand potential issues with pharmacy purchases that cannot be simply displayed next to the medication itself. By providing informational content, the mobile app becomes the go-to product for more purchases, ultimately encouraging additional transactions, as well as building a stronger relationship between the consumer and the retailer brand, regardless of the physical locale.

    Eddie Hold is VP of The NPD Group’s Connected Intelligence business unit. In this role, he is responsible for managing the overall unit, maintaining the direction, creation and expansion of the content. He also works closely with clients to help shape their strategies within the connected ecosystem as the market adapts to embrace convergent devices and the blurring of home and mobile strategies for device, content, and broadband access.

    This article first appeared on the NPD group blog on 12 December.