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Have retailers truly tapped into the power of mobile commerce this Christmas?

It’s the biggest time of year for retailers, and this year’s Christmas ads have largely drawn on our relationships – our families and the people who make Christmas meaningful. But how are brands capitalising on the relationship we have with our phones? The Drum takes a look at the mobile trends and behaviour influencing this Christmas for retailers, and explores what's next for beacons.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, those well-documented stalwarts of the US shopping year, have now become a highlight of the UK e-commerce calendar as retailers fight for consumer attention in the battle for conversions.

But this year’s pre-Christmas period, and these dates in particular, should have struck even more fear into the hearts of marketing teams as they strived to deliver a cross-channel, personalised and contextual mobile shopping experience in line with consumer expectations. Could this be the first truly mobile Christmas? And what does this spell for 2015?

According to Adobe’s Digital Index online shopping data for Cyber Monday, 19 per cent of total online sales (equating to $328m) were driven by mobile devices. Meanwhile, mobile phones and tablets accounted for 42 per cent of online traffic, a year-on-year increase of 21 per cent, according to stats released by Monetate.

While sales on mobile are still relatively low in comparison to desktop, smartphones and tablets are playing a pivotal role in consumers’ researching and browsing of products prior to purchase. But have retailers clicked on this power of mobile for e-commerce?

“For most retailers, the majority of the time that consumers will spend looking at the products will be on a mobile device,” says Peter Fitzgerald, country sales director and head of retail at Google UK. Yet many are still failing to pick up on this because they are not tracking consumers’ cross-device behaviour effectively and so fall short of understanding the role mobile plays in the path to purchase.

“There’s a reason their sessions are much shorter – it’s because they’re spending all their time on a mobile device. They already know what they want to buy when they come to your desktop site and finish the purchase.”

Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer at Somo, describes this year’s Black Friday as “the most mobile-based retail event in history” with mobile traffic to retail sites increasing by 93 per cent compared to mid-October, and mobile transactions increasing by 219 per cent, according to Usablenet’s mobile platform.

According to Sleight, these statistics indicate how “essential” mobile has become to retailers.

“It’s clear that retailers must ensure they are fully leveraging their mobile shopping offering, particularly in the run up to Christmas.”

So mobile is becoming more integral to the nuts and bolts of browsing and buying products, and retailers are adjusting their online experiences accordingly. While improved experiences are underway, is the creative approaching lagging? The much-anticipated Christmas TV campaigns are being lavished upon, but is mobile being forgotten about?

“Increasing spend levels in mobile do not equate to increasing creativity,” says Chrissy Totty, head of innovation at Vizeum.

“John Lewis has probably been the most comprehensive at thinking about how little Monty can live on smaller screens, through its 360 degree panoramic world and storytelling app. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff –ultimately it is an extension of the core, rather than a mobile-first strategy.”

Argos took a more creative approach to mobile this Christmas, with the development of its digital wishlist app for kids. Created during a hackathon at the brand’s digital hub earlier in the year, the app allows children to choose their gifts from a series of themed sections and over 3,000 products. They can put them onto a mood board which can be personalised by drawing or putting digital stickers on favourite toys.

The trend isn’t limited to kids’ toys; this year has seen many brands develop their own mobile gift guides and apps to encourage shoppers to do all their shopping in one place. “The apps are faster, easier, stickier; they help the retailer get you to buy more from them instead of going to four or five different shops,” says Fitzgerald.

“Mobile accounts for over 50 per cent of our orders now, so we give it just as much attention as our desktop site, if not more,” explains Chris Bertin, group mobile commerce manager at Mothercare, which works with NN4M on its app development. “We pay particular attention to optimising our mobile apps in the run up to Christmas as it is a peak shopping period for us.”

Tying together the online and offline has long been a key priority for savvy retailers looking to capitalise on increased mobile behaviour from consumers.

The romantic notion of entering a store only to receive a perfectly timed, contextual and personalised message seems just too good to be true. Or does it?

Although still in its early stages of application, beacon technology is being trialled by UK and US retailers in a variety of ways, with brands including House of Fraser, Waitrose and Tesco all investing in the technology.

Research from US proximity marketing company Swirl Networks has suggested that 60 per cent of shoppers will engage with beacon-triggered offers. The busy pre-Christmas period has proven a key experimental time for some retailers trialling beacon technology – and it’s not simply being used to offer discounts.

Swirl’s clients, which include Urban Outfitters, Hudson’s Bay and Timberland, have been using beacons in a variety of different ways during the festive period, including encouraging shoppers to share selfies while wearing new merchandise according to Rebecca Schuette, director of marketing at the company. This experimental mood will continue next year, as more retailers adopt the tech, she says.

“In 2015, retailers will move beyond beacon marketing pilots to full roll-outs. They’ll start experimenting with new beacon marketing uses we haven’t even considered yet, perhaps tying in location data offered by beacons with data from their own CRM or POS systems to offer up truly personalised messaging to improve the shopping experience.”

The Regent Street app, which alerts users to relevant messages for the street’s 100 retailers, all of whom have installed beacons at their entrances, was implemented well during Black Friday, according to Somo’s Sleight. 

“There’s no doubt such technologies have boosted Black Friday sales, and further adoption of beacons as well as other, mobile-based retail offerings, is critical for retailers to continue to boost sales both online and physically,” he adds.

The Christmas period sets the tone for retailers’ performance throughout the year. If the shining role mobile has played this festive season is anything to go by, the need for a cross-device, mobile-first retail strategy will become even more apparent in 2015.

This feature was first published in The Drum's 10 December issue, which is available now. 

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