It's no secret that online sales have been chipping away at in-store purchases for the past few years, with Deloitte finding that, for the first time, more than half of shoppers took to websites for 2017 holiday purchases versus brick and mortars.
What retailers might not know is that there's an important middle ground emerging between online and in-store shopping - mobile retail. And some of the top brands in the country are using their digital savvy to gain in-store market share by embracing shoppers that use their phone to price compare, navigate stores or search inventory.
And a new study from our team indicates that retailers are growing more sophisticated in their in-store mobile approach. The report, which was scored by using secret shoppers at more than 60 of the leading retail chain stores in the United States, measures six different indicators of mobile maturity.
The shoppers focused on pricing, inventory, product reviews and advice, personalization, store guidance, and checkout and loyalty. And overall, the scores for 2018 are the highest average yet in the three-year study.
Inventory search ranked highest performing among all of these metrics, indicating that retailers have gone from being "strategic" to "visionary" with their approach. Nordstrom has ranked highest for two years in a row, with its strategy of allowing shoppers to pick out clothes online that are then ready for them to try on once they get into the store. Walgreens, second overall in the study, also has upped its inventory prowess by transforming its back-end system so that it's mirrored in the front-end system. This is particularly impressive for Walgreens, since it has a massive number of SKUs - even for a big box retailer. It displays the exact number of items on its shelves in real time, and guides shoppers so they can easily find the merchandise - important since often these items are small and difficult to find.
Though personalization ranked the lowest among all the metrics, it also showed the most improvement over last year's studies, rising 64 percent to 12 points, pushing it from "reactive" to "tactical." Personalization is the bread and butter of pure-play ecommerce, with tech giants like Google and Amazon amassing endless data about their customers to predict exactly what they want and when they want it, tailoring pricing to further incentivize sales.
This task is more difficult for brick and mortar shopping, which has to marry information about its customers online with data on in-store purchasing. Additionally, there are many variables that feed shopping habits that are difficult to detect. For instance, when someone is last-minute shopping for a birthday or anniversary, that customer is more likely to care less about price versus someone shopping well in advance of an event. Retailers may be chipping away at the quest for tailored experiences, but the industry appears to be quite a ways away from truly achieving personalization.
Overall, the top spot in the survey this year went to Lowe's - a retail giant that has put an emphasis on simple in-store navigation to its inventory. In stores with a large footprint, finding an exact item is often a struggle for consumers. But Lowe's takes away this headache by showing the exact aisle and bin number of products on its mobile website. Customers have increasingly high expectations of retailers' mobile maturity across the board, but technologies like GPS for road navigation have lead to increased consumer demand for simple in-store navigation options.
Overall, retailers have made huge strides in mobile maturity related to pricing, inventory, and product reviews and advice, but still can grow their shrewdness related to personalization, store guidance, and - the ultimate goal - checkout and loyalty. It's been tough lately for brick and mortar stores, with a record number of closures in 2017. By harnessing mobile maturity, the ultimate blend of in-store and and ecommerce, it can be a promising differentiator so brands can offer shoppers the best of both worlds.
About the Author Jeremy Gilman is DMI's Senior Vice President of Strategy and runs the global strategy and innovation group at DMI. Operating at the intersection of business, brand and technology, the strategy and innovation group helps organizations transform and grow through customer-first design and innovation. Some clients include Treasury Wine Estates, Under Armour, Mills Fleet Farms, Hyundai Capital America, Virgin Group, and Rosetta Stone. His team is responsible for the annual Mobile Maturity Model study.