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The Retail Bulletin interview with Jon Asbury

Retail Bulletin talks to Jon Asbury, Head of Digital at Halfords, about his thoughts for the future of mobile retailing in advance of his appearance at our third Multi-Channel Summit on 1st February.


The Retail Bulletin interview with Jon Asbury

Retail Bulletin talks to Jon Asbury, Head of Digital at Halfords, about his thoughts for the future of mobile retailing in advance of his appearance at our third Multi-Channel Summit on 1st February.

Halfords recognised the size of the mobile opportunity very early on and as a result was one of the first retailers to launch a mobile optimised website, explains Asbury. He adds that the retailer had been tracking mobile traffic since 2009 and had noticed even before the current proliferation of mobile sites, that customers were using their mobile phones to research products and make transactions. Traffic was driven by the growth in the ownership of smartphones and device updates.

The evidence provided by the tracking and research made it much easier for Halfords to launch a mobile site explains Asbury. And the question of whether to launch a mobile site or an app, which is often a dilemma for retailers, was not an issue for Halfords. Asbury said: “Many retailers feel they have to make a choice between a mobile site or an app when first considering entering the mobile marketplace.  But we at Halfords we took the decision to have both as they each bring different benefits to our customers.”

Asbury recommends that a mobile site be developed first as this is the most inclusive. Then retailers should consider what customers would want from an app and how it would be used and proceed from there.

Halfords launched a shopping app in June this year. Asbury says that Halfords wanted customers to be able to find product information online quickly and easily when in a store, which the app enables  them to do. It also allows retailers to offer richer and deeper content, such as reviews and videos, for example. 

Asbury says he is confident that the current explosive growth in mobile will continue and will present a number of opportunities for retailers.  He predicts that growth will be driven by smartphone device upgrades as well as a growth in confidence among consumers regarding what they can do with their smartphones.

When asked about the barriers to success, Asbury says it is very hard to see them from a consumer perspective with mobile traffic up 300% at Halfords. However, he stresses that retailers need to ensure that their mobile site and apps provide an enriching experience for customers. He adds: “The 3G signal is still a bit patchy, but we at Halfords ensured we developed a mobile site that loads very quickly.” He also says that customers seem to accept the limitations of smartphone technology and the frustrations that it can bring.

Asbury points out that a trial of free Wi-Fi in store has been very successful as customers increasingly use their smartphones when in-store to research products they are interested in buying. “Typically, customers will research different product options online at home then visit a store to look at a shortlist of three to four products. Once they have made their choice they will read the reviews online or by scanning the product barcode into their phone,” he explains.

Asbury is convinced that mobile offers not just an additional way to shop, but also helps to ensure that customers enjoy their time in-store and are able to get product information quickly and easily, and in more detail. 

Halfords has recently introduced QR codes on products which customers can use for tasks such as finding the right part for their car by typing in their registration number. They can also be used to allow potential customers to 'virtually' walk around camping tents when there is no space to erect them in-store. Another technology led service is the introduction of a geo-aware store locator.

Asbury says that Halford’s other multi-channel offering, Click & Collect, is also popular with customers. “Click & Collect is a great way of getting the customer in-store  where they can be offered added value through, for example, a demo of how to use their new  bike or install a part. And of course it also presents another opportunity for a customer make a purchase while in the shop.”

Halfords is clearly moving quickly to exploit the wide range of benefits of mobile and multi-channel retailing. Hear about the company’s experiences first hand on 1st February 2012, when Jon Asbury will be participating in Retail Bulletin’s Multi-Channel Summit. Click here for full programme details.

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