What Consumers Need To Shop, Not Buy, On Mobile

Posted on March 04, 2016
By Naveen Tewari

Originally published on Retail TouchPoints.

Mobile is an integrated part of a consumer’s life, being the first thing you look at when you wake up, and the last thing you look at before you go to sleep. With this in mind, well-designed mobile shopping apps seem to be the way to a consumer’s mind, heart and wallet. Consumers now have powerful search engines and extensive mobile stores at their fingertips, with seemingly infinite selections of products. When a consumer wants to buy a new pair of headphones, or a limited-edition watch, the path to gratification couldn’t be easier.

This type of search-shopping, based on intent, is powerful and caters to specific consumer needs by transforming a ‘want’ to a purchase right away. But do consumers always buy only things they think they need? What about the times consumers serendipitously come across items — while walking past exquisitely fashioned store windows, or while browsing within the retail store, discovering products that they end up wanting, or realizing that they now need?

Shopping is a wonderful, complex, personal activity, and that makes it difficult to fully understand. But Shopping is not Buying. Buying is merely the purchase transaction, often a chore, typically meant to replenish the things we need in our lives. Shopping offers an endless choice of possibilities — to spend, or not to spend. When people go shopping, walk into malls, or lazily browse popular sites and apps, they’re waiting to be thrilled, excited and enticed into buying something new.

The Limitations Of Search

Shopping is discovering things you didn’t know existed, or asking you to spend your money on that second bag you don’t really need, or plan to buy, but now want to buy. While search can cater to intent, search can’t tell a consumer what she would like to search for, let alone what she might like to shop for. From a tempting bauble at checkout to a gadget bought on a whim, nearly 83% of U.S. Millennials have bought on impulse, according to eMarketer. Yet impulse shopping hasn’t yet found its footing on mobile.

A CreditDonkey survey found that only 1% of U.S. consumers said they make more impulse purchases on mobile than in-person or online. For this reason alone, foot-traffic has so far been viewed as important, with a significantly larger percentage of consumers still buying on impulse in person, reports eMarketer.

Shopping apps today, ironically, don’t fully cater to the human need to shop. For starters, the odds of capturing consumer attention on mobile are lower than retailers imagine. According to Forrester, 60% of consumers today use fewer than two shopping apps, and consumers typically spend only 5% of their time in these apps.

Too Many Choices, Not Enough Personalization

The apps may have lists of items to discover, but it isn’t unique or personalized to a consumer on a shopping app — it’s typically restricted to the “new arrivals” section. A consumer might love that retailer’s neon animal print scarf — but what are the odds of her searching for something so specific? Top retailers propose nearly 500,000 responses for products such as scarves, let alone less-niche products. Meanwhile, for the consumer who decides to browse rather than search, the array of choices can be overwhelming.

Retailers will either have to wait for a consumer’s intent, or attempt to capture his or her interest in social zones, limiting their ability to captivate consumers on mobile. Numerous discovery apps can help people shop, but unless a product can make it to the first page of the search results, the odds of being chanced upon are shockingly low. Moreover, consumer time on mobile is heavily fragmented, with consumers spending nearly 70% of their time across various types of app categories, not just social or shopping apps, according to Forrester and Flurry.

Much like the friend who shows you things she just knows you will like, discovery on mobile should utilize the power of consumer data to show a consumer an amazing vacation she wasn’t planning to take but is now mesmerized by, or a hat that she would have never searched for but that just happens to go really well with the boots she bought last week.

Mobile advertising can unleash the power of product discovery, to truly power shopping — and not just buying. What commerce on mobile needs is a push towards taking people’s inherent need to impulse shop to the screen in their pockets. Only by doing this will it lead to a truly emotional connection between retailers and their consumers.