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Mobile Commerce: Making the Most of Mobile Context

Delivering excellent mobile commerce experiences is not just about mobile-friendly design, but also about mobile context – the right experience at the right time given what you know about the customer. In some cases, this is a unique experience to the mobile visitor.

Mobile’s role in the buying journey

While it’s not possible to predict every mobile visitor’s intent and stage of the buying process, there are clues you can use to tailor the experience.

Referral Source
Did the visitor arrive via an email campaign? You may be able to identify this visitor through a unique URL parameter to personalize the entire experience. Otherwise, consider an email referral as a “returning visitor” and apply the same personalization you would to desktop referring visitors.

Other referral sources such as social networks and third-party apps (like Houzz, RedLaser) tell you something about your mobile visitor, and may influence what content and offers you show the visitor.

Site Navigation
Does the visitor immediately search or browse? Is he or she using sort features? Reading reviews? Certain navigation patterns signal different stages of the buying process and levels of intent.

Landing Page
Did the customer land on the home page, a category page, or a product page? This gives you some insight into purchase intent and stage of the research/evaluation process.

Device Type
Tablets, smartphones, and their wearable companions each have a different use context. Tablets are “lean-back” devices. Though mobile, they’re used more often from the comfort of one’s home during leisure time. Smartphones are about “snackable” content – mobile moments consumed on-the-go and in-store. And smart-watches are about “glanceable” content that doesn’t require complex navigation or interaction.

Mobile’s Unique Experience

Mobile devices also have their own unique native features that experience designers can use to serve contextual features.

Location can be detected on desktop, but precise geolocation can be gleaned from mobile devices, including proximity to physical stores (or even presence inside a store). Push-content, geo-targeted merchandising, and other features can be served to mobile visitors.

Even if the visitor is not in a retailer’s physical store but is in a mall or retail shopping district, the experience may be tailored for “showrooming” behavior, such as price comparison, reviews, and immediate purchase. The visitor may be served a time-limited coupon or other incentive, or be shown a product page layout where low price is emphasized.

Macy’s recently developed a merchandising feature that optimizes search and category results based on what’s in-stock in nearby stores based on a mobile visitor’s geolocation.

Voice Input
Most smartphones come equipped with voice-recognition technology that can be accessed from the keyboard. Few customers are aware of this, and few retailers have harnessed the potential of voice-assisted search.

search by voice

Mobile commerce sites and apps can take this feature even further. Below is a designer’s mockup on what an eBay voice search feature could look like, including prompts for refinements or even suggestions such as “do you have a preferred color?”

ebay voice

In the future, expect to see mobile site search handle spoken queries using natural language processing and artificial intelligence to become an interactive virtual sales consultant. For instance, “show me red leather pumps in a size 8 with a stiletto heel.” Voice search eliminates the need to fiddle with menus and refinement tools.

Smartphone users love their cameras. While some brands and advertisers have harnessed the camera function for barcode and QR code scanning, retailers like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Tesco are already leveraging image recognition technology to support visual search.

nieman marcus visual search

The accelerometer inside a mobile device detects movement, from slight tilts (to determine landscape or portrait orientation) to vigorous shakes and bumps. Warby Parker’s mobile site allows customers to view multiple product images by slightly tilting their devices left and right, saving the hassle of tapping tiny dots.

warby parker accelerometer

This could also be applied to category and search pages in lieu of scrolling or pagination links.

In addition to the cool-factor, this is a practical way to incorporate tapless-interaction and control that can be applied to any ecommerce site today. And like voice, movement gesture may find its way into the wearable commerce experience soon.

Device Pairing
Beacons are gaining traction with omnichannel retailers like Timberland and Kenneth Cole, allowing customers to access targeted digital content and offers in-store through Bluetooth Low Energy devices and smartphones.

Beyond the store, smartphones can also pair with wearable apps like those developed for the Apple Watch to capture “mobile moments” any time. Zulily’s Apple Watch app allows users to manage wish lists, set alerts and bookmark sale items to view on a larger screen when they have time – features that fit well into the flash-sale experience.

zulily smart watch

Optimizing for Mobile-in-Store

GPS, camera input, and device pairing with beacons are particularly useful to the in-store context. Recall that 84 percent of smartphone owners use their device in-store, and spend 25-50 percent more than those who don’t.

Earlier this year, Sephora introduced a “store mode” for its mobile app that turns on additional beacon-powered features including scanning products for rating and review info, quick access to purchase history and “Loves list,” access to loyalty status information, and an augmented reality feature where a customer can snap a selfie and receive make-up application tips tailored to her face shape.

sephora store mode

Expect more retailers to explore “store mode” for mobile apps. Mobile websites may also behave as though they are in “store mode” with a combination of geolocation and device detection.

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