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Growth of tablet usage having increasing impact on retailers

Tablets are having an increasing impact on non-store sales as their penetration continues to grow at a dramatic rate and they deliver a much greater conversion rate than mobile phones.By Glynn Davis

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Growth of tablet usage having increasing impact on retailers

The growth of tablets and their use as a shopping tool was a recurrent theme at The Retail Bulletin 2nd Mobile Retailing Summit 2012 in London this week with many retailers finding them a great driver of sales.

Tablets take-off

Nick Marley, head of web and mobile e-commerce at Waitrose, told delegates that iPads were “twice as important” as iPhones to Waitrose, with the devices already accounting for 15% of transactions  despite Waitrose not yet having a tablet-optimised site.

Such is the growing important of tablets that Marley says the company is looking to develop a site for tablets that can then be utilised on the desktop. “The return on investment over the next two years will be with tablets,” says Marley, although he suggests that over the longer term it will switch to mobiles as they become part of a broader multi-channel proposition at Waitrose.  

He suggests that such is the impact of tablets and mobiles that people are “now living life through screens”. And this is only going to increase, according to Steve Brockway, research director at eDigitalResearch, who says that over the next three years 90% of people in the UK will have a smart-phone with internet access and that the current 20% of consumers with tablets will likely increase by 50% over Christmas – replicating last year’s trend.

Sam Barton, head of e-commerce user experience at Shop Direct Group, has experienced this massive growth as 18 months ago only 5% of visitors to the company’s sites were via mobile and tablet this is expected to hit 40% by Christmas.

Conversion rates impressive on tablets

The big benefit for Shop Direct Group – as at Waitrose – is the uptake of tablets. “They are huge for us and the conversion rates are the same as on a desktop. And we’ve not yet optimised the site for tablets, we serve up the desktop version,” says Barton.

The big benefit of tablets is that they drive much greater overall spending from shoppers. Barton says customers shopping across desktop and tablet are 12 times more valuable than people who only shop on their desktop.

Security still an issue

However, the surprising finding is that 80% of these shoppers still do the actual transaction on the desktop. “There is still an issue over security so there is the potential for lost orders. This is a huge challenge for us,” says Barton.

Thomas Ableman, commercial director at Chiltern Railways, also recognises a problem with customers’ perceptions of security – when they use his company’s app: “The difference in the number of customers planning journeys versus buying tickets is massive. Many still go to the counter to buy their tickets. It’s a fear factor and the number one issue is security but I’m not really sure what the problem is?”

Kebbie Sebastian, managing director of Penser Consulting, says: “There is a balance between usability and security. PayPal took 10 years to be as trusted as MasterCard and Visa.” This fits in with the belief of Ableman that “changing customer behaviour is very difficult”.

In-store wi-fi boosts customer relationships

But there is no doubt that it is the customers’ – unprompted - changing behaviour that is driving retailers to adapt their methods of operating. This is certainly apparent in-store where growing numbers of retailers are installing free wi-fi as they recognise customers are using their phones in-store to price compare and search for product information.

Kate Cuthbertson, head of mobile innovation at Asda, says: “Wi-fi is part of our strategy and we are investing in it. Mobile is the best opportunity for a relationship with our customer’s when in-store. We’ve not got a loyalty card so mobile lets us learn a lot about what the customer is doing and this helps improve our relationship with them.”

This focus on delivering a multi-channel experience is not unusual and she revealed that Asda is developing a multi-channel store of the future with 12 different versions under trial, each containing different elements.

Care needed with new innovations

As part of these developments Cuthbertson says the objective is to “make the boring bit of shopping inspiring” so the use of QR codes, augmented reality has a potential part to play. But she worries that without the relevant governance these technologies could become a “mess” in-store.

There is also a widely held view that using mobile devices to directly target individuals with marketing offers and promotions could easily become invasive and that again great care has to be taken.

Fraser Davidson, director of technology at Javelin Group, says: “There is a massive opportunity for in-store marketing – defensively and pro-actively - but retailers need to avoid being intrusive.”

Personalisation to improve service

Using data from loyalty programmes, transactions, and increasingly geo-location data enables merchants to provide a “superior in-store service by personalising the experience”. Pro-actively, luxury goods retailers could have customers checking-in when they enter the store so that they are recognised by the staff, and for large department stores the customer could be directed to specific items.

More defensively, to counter the growing trend for in-store price comparisons, Davidson says: “If you know the customer is doing it then you can influence them by controlling the price comparisons and increase conversion. If they are comparing prices from outside the store then they are looking for the cheapest price but if they are in-store then they are probably looking for a fair price.” 

Shoe retailer Clarks is also developing its in-store experience by tying it in to its mobile developments, with Nick Darby, m-commerce manager at Clarks, revealing that it is to introduce kiosks into its stores that will have QR code readers included and be NFC-ready.

Apps focused on specific customers

This coincides with the development of a family of apps that are bring launched by the company over the next 12 months and which are targeted at specific subsets of customers. “They will solve single customer problems, which fits with our high service brand. It’s the way to go for us,” says Darby.

For example there will be a First Shoes app, along with one aimed at the 30-40-year old age bracket. “One of the things this app will do is pick-out 10 styles for the 30-40 year old. They would like an experience that is removed from the rest of the ‘noise’ on the Clarks website,” he suggests.

Mobile presents many challenges

This is very different to the approach taken by TheTrainline.com that has a single app. Although this undoubtedly simplifies things, Andy Towers, head of product development at TheTrainline.com, says there are still plenty of challenges with developing its mobile proposition.

One is the growth in tablet usage: “It’s causing us headaches because we question whether they are home browsers or on-the-move? We’ve not cracked tablets but they are increasingly important. We’re in the process of going through our core website to make it more palatable on tablets.”

Despite the challenges the usage of mobile devices is “exploding much more than we’d imagined”, says Towers, who adds that the adoption of NFC will likely add further interest into the marketplace as it will potentially do away with the need for paper train tickets.

However, he says there is a long way to go before its adoption by customers and the train operating companies, with the latter being the slowest part. Mobile might be dramatically changing the face of retailing, but it seems some things never change.

Don't miss the Retail Bulletin's 4th Multichannel Retailing Summit, 6th February 2013. Click here to register.

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