The future of retail: Mobile-first is the only way to save our shops

2 Mar 2017

Image: fizkes/Shutterstock

Bricks-and-mortar retailers will need to adopt a ‘mobile-first’ strategy to keep consumers interested.

More than 30pc of Irish consumers say that their mobile is their main shopping tool.

That’s the stark finding in the latest PwC 2017 Irish Total Retail report, which includes feedback from 1,000 Irish online shoppers and more than 24,000 global shoppers.

‘Offering consumers what they want, when they want it, how they want it, will separate the winners from the losers’

With retailers are still in recovery mode after almost 10 years of recession, Irish consumers have moved on and look to social media for inspiration, using their mobile device as a tool for pricing goods while out and about.

The study found that 25pc of Irish consumers shop online every week, compared to 46pc in the UK and 73pc in China.

One cause for concern for Irish retailers is that 23pc of consumers buy their clothes and footwear online.

Not only this, but only 27pc say they have not visited an online grocery store in the last year, suggesting that 73pc may have.

40pc of Irish consumers admit to physically shopping every week, in line with global norms.

However, consumers are relying on their smartphones as shopping tools and 30pc say their mobile will be their main shopping tool going forward.

PwC recommends that Irish retailers adopt a ‘mobile-first’ strategy and ensure that sales assistants on the ground can demonstrate deep product knowledge, be capable of checking other stores quickly and inform consumers of real-time offers.

About 37pc of Irish respondents use social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to gain shopping inspiration, with this number rising to 50pc in the 18-34 age group.

Mobile shopping will be a game-changer

The future of retail: Mobile-first is the only way to save our shops

From left: Martin Kelleher, managing director, Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland; Owen McFeely, senior manager, retail and consumer practice, PwC; Catherine Casserly, marketing director, Irish Distillers; and Brendan Corbett, head of marketing and e-commerce, Eason. Image: Jason Clarke

The Irish main street has been consistently behind on online shopping and e-commerce trends but retailers could leapfrog the situation by going ‘mobile-first’, PwC recommends.

“The stakes have never been higher for individual retailers,” warned John Dillon, partner at PwC Ireland’s retail and consumer practice.

“And with online players popping up in every product category, competition has never been fiercer.

“In a golden age of choice, powered by the mobile phone and global shopping just a click away, retailers often lack a global brand and face technological upheavals, leaving them constantly having to reinvent themselves.”

Dillon said the most common reasons for shopping online are convenience and price.

“The survey confirms that there is plenty of opportunity for growth in the Irish retail sector, including to reap greater revenues from digital,” he explained.

“While physical presence on the high street is still extremely relevant, it is important that Irish retailers make the best possible use of all purchasing channels. Key areas for investment include … mobile, talent, big data, social media and more secure platforms.”

The survey found that almost half (48pc) shop online via mobile at least a few times a year.

Owen McFeely, senior manager at PwC’s retail and consumer practice, said that more people are shopping with their mobile than with a tablet.

He anticipates that in a few short years, the mobile device will become the preferred method of online shopping.

“The survey confirms that mobile shopping is a game changer,” said McFeely.

“Irish consumers are comfortable using their mobile phone for buying as well as searching for products and comparing prices. And with 44pc of Irish respondents reporting that they have never purchased products online via their mobile, this trend is likely to increase and retailers would do well to adopt a ‘mobile-first’ strategy.”

The struggle is real

Similar to global trends, the survey reveals some barriers to mobile shopping in Ireland, including the screen size being too small (45pc), mobile websites not being easy to use (28pc) and the lack of secure mobile websites (24pc).

Nearly three-quarters (71pc) of Irish consumers shop at Amazon, for example, and this poses a threat.

Shopping with Amazon is affecting consumer behaviour. A significant number of Amazon shoppers in Ireland shop less often at retail stores (25pc) and at other retail websites (14pc). In addition, a third (33pc) say that they start their product search with Amazon, demonstrating that the struggle for market share is real.

“Alongside all of these challenges, Irish retailers are also struggling to understand the impact of Brexit on their businesses,” Dillon said.

“This includes the impact of trade tariffs, customs compliance, longer product supply lead times and regulatory costs. Recent weak sterling values have also driven many shoppers online to UK-based retailers. Having experienced the ease of online shopping for the first time, many consumers are likely to continue these new shopping behaviours.

“Their loyalty will be hotly contested. The power has very much shifted from those who make and sell products to the customers who buy them. Offering consumers what they want, when they want it, how they want it, will separate the winners from the losers.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years