"Insatiable customer expectations" are driving large retailers to adopt a wide range of mobile technologies, according to a new research report.
The latest mobile study by Aberdeen Group complements the findings of the broader IBM trend report released last month, while painting a portrait of a frantic industry that is scrambling to catch up with the demands of a new breed of shoppers who expect to find what they want with the help of smart phones or tablets while at home, on the road, or in the store.
"Consumers are forcing retailers to expand channel commerce and customer engagement in stores," wrote analyst Sahir Anand in the opening line of the study that identifies both internal and external pressures on retailers to adopt mobile platforms.
The top driver, simply stated, is that customers now expect retailers to support their mobile devices. That reason was cited by almost half the 80 retailers participating in the study. That was followed by the rapid adoption rate of mobile by consumers (38 percent), proliferation of new marketing channels (28), and rising consumer expectations of cross-channel experiences (28).
And the mobile capabilities those consumers expect are all over the digital map.
"Due to this device revolution, retailers are compelled to allow consumer-owned or employee-run devices operating within and outside stores for web access, comparison shopping, ratings, reviews, coupons, and many other forms of shopping behaviors," Anand wrote in the study, which was underwritten by four mobile technology firms: Kony, Global Bay, I Love Velvet, and Transaction Wireless.
Retailers like Home Depot, JC Penney, Macy's, Pizza Hut, and Finish Line are also integrating mobile with online commerce, stores, and call centers.
Inside the company walls, the top reason to embrace mobile reflects the need to improve customer retention, which was cited by 54 percent of the companies, and the need to improve customer satisfaction, cited by 50 percent. "In the present economy, this does not come as a surprise as high retention and satisfaction play their part in shaping differentiated shopping, sales, and margin," said Anand.
But the last two internal drivers were a bit of a surprise. One in five of the respondents confessed to an inability to understand mobile channel purchasing behaviors and/or the inability to measure the impact of mobile marketing.
There are some serious challenges for CIOs faced with this flurry of activity. The biggest hump seems to be addressing the multiple mobile standards for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android devices. As Anand noted, the different operating systems, combined with varying degrees of API control, make the retailer's efforts less predictable and, perhaps, more costly.
Some companies are making significant headway in blending mobile into operations at all levels. The outdoor sports retailer, Cabela's, for example, has created a cross-function mobile strategy team that includes marketing, e-commerce, store operations, IT, and customer services. The chain also captures mobile data including traffic, page views, and conversions. In all, 63 percent of the surveyed companies wanted to dedicate more resources to tracking the mobile efforts.
Other retailers are handing mobile devices to employees. For example, Pacific Sunwear, which has 826 stores in the US, bought tablets for 300 stores so that sales associates can approach customers wherever they are, providing real-time updates on product availability and more information from the company's Website. The effort is intended to help reduce lost sales.
All of this comes back to making the customer happy. The top conclusion from the study is that retailers need to determine what the customer really wants before investing in mobile efforts.