What Marketers Can Learn from the Mobile-First Shopping Season

The 2020 holiday shopping season was the most mobile on record — and that trend will only continue to accelerate, with smartphones set to contribute more than half of online spend by September 2022, according to Adobe

M-commerce is not restricted to the holiday season. The trend gained in popularity throughout the year as Covid-19 confined consumers to their homes. Marketers need actionable tips to keep up with mobile shopping trends in the year ahead. 

Following a record-breaking Cyber 5 — the name given to the five-day shopping period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday —  with Shopify reporting 67% year-over-year growth in global sales, I sat down with Mary Elizabeth Hasbrouck, former director of mobile advertising at Criteo, in a virtual fireside chat to talk about what mobile marketers need to know to stay ahead of the game. Here are our key tips and takeaways from this chat, and more, to keep customers engaged and coming back throughout 2021. 

The competition is increasing

Even mobile-first brands that developed their strategies from the ground up are seeing the ramifications of increased competition as more traditional brands go mobile. A good example of this is food delivery. There’s so much more demand for delivery and pick-up through the app, with ads from chains like Chipotle and Starbucks encouraging customers to become loyal team members and earn rewards through the app. While this has driven up the cost of ad inventory, mobile-first brands have reaped the benefits of their pre-pandemic, app performance marketing pedigrees. 

Take Starbucks: even “Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, approximately 80% of Starbucks US transactions were on the go, driven in part by the ability to order and pay ahead using the Starbucks App,” CEO Kevin Johnson explained when announcing the coffee behemoth was accelerating its mobile-order-pickup-only concept. In fact, mobile orders as a percentage of transactions had grown to 17% by the end of 2019. (Also important to note that the first Starbucks Pickup store opened in New York City in November — about two months before the first case of coronavirus had been identified in the US.)

“It’s going to be more competitive for aggregators now because there’s so much demand for people to do pickup and delivery on their own,” Hasbrouck explained. “[Like Amazon], everyone wants to be the go-to app on your home screen. How can you be that app, that household name that people want to go to right away to order something?”

Make the most of the mobile medium

What’s the difference between e-commerce and m-commerce? The device, of course, but the mobile medium offers its own experience, and retailers must take advantage of that. Wayfair has been around for forever — all e-commerce online. And what they can double down on in their app is AI to help customers better understand how they purchase — where they can actually position the couch in their living room on the app, for instance.  

Another example is Domino’s Pizza, whose digital innovations, such as “carside” pickup and GPS order tracking, helped it weather the effects of the indoor dining restrictions caused by the global pandemic. Over 50% of its sales in Australia are coming directly from the app, and InMobi found that Domino’s was the consistent leader in app installs pre-Covid and through March 2020. 

The pandemic has also been a catalyst for quick-service restaurants like Starbucks and McDonalds. Historically, QSRs have done really well because you can see one of their restaurants every few blocks. “But that doesn’t matter anymore,” Hasbrouck said. “People need to go and pick things up, but instead of being reminded by what you’re seeing as you’re walking to work, it has to be what you see on your phone.” 

Consequently, brands need to cast a really wide net to be ‘for everyone’ — similar to what Amazon has been doing for some time now. 

For its part, McDonald’s is aiming to unlock customer loyalty and engagement with new digital experiences it will soon be piloting called MyMcDonald’s. The program will offer personalized order suggestions and deals across multiple customer touchpoints, including its mobile app. 

“We’ll use technology to transform our customers’ experience in every channel and every market … increasing the speed of service … making it more personal … making it more convenient … and delivering better value,” McDonald’s Chief Digital Customer Engagement Officer Lucy Brady said. 

How to win consumer dollars 

According to an Adobe analytics report, online retail sales rose 22% year-over-year to a record $9 billion on Black Friday, with customers embracing m-commerce more than ever. Shopping on smartphones jumped 25% year over year to $3.6 billion, making up 40% of online spending. Meanwhile, as expected, visits to brick-and-mortars were down 48% — roughly half the foot traffic they saw a year ago.  

Criteo did an entire study on consumer behavior over the past few months, looking at how people plan to buy during the holidays. “The number-one thing they care about when they’re choosing a brand is shipping and delivery fees,” Hasbrouck said, followed by promos. “I think it’s really interesting that shipping can, first, be higher than a promo, but also that that’s how you’re going to be more competitive,” she said. 

What’s really interesting, though, is Hasbrouck sees the opportunity to apply this lesson from retail to other types of apps — such as food delivery apps. “If you have the cheapest delivery fees or it’s like the most seamless to get to, that’s a way that you can really get an edge,” she said. “And it’s not that surprising when you look at the creative. Most of our food delivery partners are always advertising free shipping, three-day shipping, etc.” These kinds of offers and features can not only help you win new customers but earn the loyalty of existing ones. 

The importance of intermediary 

Worldwide e-commerce sales grew an estimated 27.6% in 2020, and eMarketer forecasts online sales growth of 14.3% worldwide in 2021. With the increasing prominence of m-commerce, it’s more important than ever to have a foundation in place to make sure you’re following best practices for measurement. 

To start, marketers need to get event tracking squared away and make sure it is spot on. This means not only tracking the most basic events like install and purchase — but every step along the customer journey.

Brands may be working toward the sale, but it’s important to track the intermediary events — especially with apps. How are you going to be able to optimize user models if you’re not tracking the user funnel correctly?

Once you have your funnel down, you can measure not only the install-to-checkout conversion rate, but the conversion rate from one part of the funnel to the next. You’ll understand where there’s a huge drop-off, for instance, from the product detail page to the add-to cart, and you can start drilling into why that’s going on. Is there a design flaw? Are there too many clicks to get a customer to purchase? This is where marketers and product people can come together a bit and try to figure out how we optimize the funnel.

Bonus tip: Don’t forget to use that data to help drive your retargeting and engagement strategies. 

Don’t dismiss the potential for fraud

The increased interest in consumer apps means consumer fraudsters are also increasingly interested in apps. Adjust took a deep dive into its data, analyzing more than 14.3 billion installs globally, to reveal which methods have been most commonly employed between January and August 2020. Data showed that fake users/bots are still the most prevalent fraud type in the mobile ad ecosystem, making up 54.6% of total fraudulent activity globally. Using fraud prevention filters is the only way to stop fraud in its tracks, helping you save your user acquisition budget and keeping your data sets clean and reliable.

Mobile apps were a must-have even before the pandemic, but as trends accelerate into 2021, it’s imperative that brands stop thinking about their apps as after-thoughts and take some tips from mobile-first brands to win customer loyalty now and in the future.  

Kia Saedi is regional vice president, West, at Adjust.

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