Why high street retailers must go mobile in the race to catch up
In recent weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about the changing face of retail in the wake of the BHS closure. Lots of theories have been put forward as to why this high street institution ran in to such difficulties, and many of them are valid. One that rings true for me though, and is one for the wider retail sector to dwell on, is the issue of mobile digital technology and retailers’ ability (or lack thereof) to fully comprehend and embrace this.
To fully explain what I mean it is important that we set the scene. Everyone knows that people are increasingly doing their shopping online – nothing new there – but what is new is their wish to shop not just online, but on the move. In other words, their mobile device is becoming the avenue of choice for British shoppers. It makes sense, after all we live our lives increasingly on the move – 91 per cent of Facebook’s daily users are on mobile – so it should seem obvious that people’s shopping habits would follow the same trend. In fact, it has even got to the point where search engines have started to penalise sites that are not mobile friendly.
Think about it, we have all been there. You use your mobile to go to a site that you like or need, you have used it many times, but because you are using your mobile it all goes wrong. The screen doesn’t fit, it doesn’t have the same functions. So what do you do? You try and find an alternative site that does work on your mobile, and you will find one.
A lot of companies have seen this coming and have made sure they are ready. I know companies that regularly have half or more of their online traffic coming from mobile devices.
Another retailer that has been in the news for very different reasons to BHS recently is Argos. Not only has it adapted its business to online sales, with about half of its sales coming online, but it has made a clear objective out of ensuring its customers are able to have just as good a shopping experience on their mobile as on their laptop. And its customers have responded – 28 per cent of its total sales as a company now come via mobile devices – and that figure will continue to grow.
For retailers who have embraced this, the rewards are clear. Amazon has so far led the way in this. But, following on from its mobile success, Argos is now being eyed up for a takeover by Sainsbury’s with the key purpose of allowing the supermarket to compete with Amazon in this space. When multi billion pound companies start fighting over a market, you can be sure it’s a good sign.
Now at this point there may be people saying – ‘well that’s all fine for the likes of Amazon and Sainsbury’s, but I am a small business with no budget for this’. People will think of the cost and expense of making their business mobile friendly and assume it is yet another way for large companies to squeeze out the little guys. To think like this though, is to look through the wrong end of the telescope. Mobile technology, if embraced properly, should narrow the gap between the small and big, not widen it.
Yes, it will cost money – depending on the size of the site, businesses could be looking at a potential cost of around £2500 to make their website fully responsive to mobile devices. For smaller companies this may seem like a significant investment but, dependent on the company’s profit margins and overall traffic to the site, it is conceivable to have paid this investment off within six months, due to the increase in conversions from mobile traffic.
A lot of this is to do with allowing customers to have a more flexible experience. For example, 40 per cent of adults are known to start an activity on one device and switch to another to finish it. So making sure that your company’s website works equally well across all devices helps ensure you are tapping in to this. It also allows customers to share and like deals and products straight away, as you will see by logging in to Facebook and being instantly told about a product that one of your friends has liked. This is, in essence, turning customers in to advocates for your product, and there are many companies, who use this very well, by simply adding a like or share option to their mobile site. BHS however, is not one of them. In fact, if you look through a standard social media timeline over the past six months, there will be little or no BHS branded examples of this, unlike some of its high street competitors.
This competitive edge is vital for retailers, but also for other business. It doesn’t matter if you are Ikea or a local plumber, this technology is about to become a central pillar of your company’s success. BHS didn’t catch on to this till it was too late. There is no reason for anyone to follow its example.
Duncan Davidson is business development director at Web Foundry