Will 2016 be the year of mobile?

Every time you turned around in 2015 somebody somewhere was discussing the growing importance of mobile as a sales channel, with some sites seeing 50 per cent of their traffic from mobile. But just because everyone talks about it doesn’t mean everyone’s doing it. Could 2016 be the year that mcommerce becomes a central part of retail strategy?

US consumers purchased $24 billion in goods on their mobile phones in 2014, and the 2015 figure is expected to be much higher.  In the UK, of the £1.1 billion spent on Black Friday, £495 million was spent on smartphones and tablets and again, that percentage is expected to increase in 2016.

In 2016, Forrester forecasts mobile and tablet commerce will reach $142 billion in the US and €86 billion in EU-7, representing respectively 38 per cent and 32 per cent of online transactions. In the US, more than 30 per cent of sales are expected to have a mobile cross channel component, meaning consumers will use mobile at some point throughout the purchase life cycle, from product research to in-store interactions. By the end of 2016, Forrester predicts that 4.8 billion individuals globally will use a mobile phone. Smartphone subscribers will represent 46 per cent of the global population, driven by an accelerated adoption in Africa and Asia. And those are figures that can’t be ignored.

The constant repetition of the importance of mobile, and the incredible numbers being reported, means that in 2016 no retailer can afford to ignore the importance of mobile as another sales channel. For many customers, the mobile sales journey remained a stumbling block for use.  Studies have shown that up to 70 per cent of customers fail to complete their mobile transactions on checkout via a mobile website.Yet usage continues to increase – in 2014 the growth of m-commerce outpaced the overall growth of ecommerce, and that is expected to have accelerated in 2015 with m-commerce growing at twice the rate of ecommerce.

But perhaps where the focus needs to lie is beyond mobile merely as a sales channel, rather as a means for impacting the entire business, and servicing customer wants at their convenience. Mobile is present when consumers are exploring, researching and buying. Customers are also using mobile post-purchase when they are using, asking and communicating with friends about the product.

Customers want a good overall mobile shopping experience, which for many can be best delivered through a native app, as navigation can be easier than through a mobile site. At the same time, it offers marketers an increasing opportunity to communicate with customers. A website can only sell goods to customers once they’re there, but with an app a brand can actively engage with customers and communicate content, latest deals and promos.

But mobile offers so much more than simply a sales channel. Christmas 2015 is expected to have seen one-third of UK shoppers to have used click-and-collect, a quarter of them to have used smartphones to purchase presents – and over half of those want home delivery.  It’s about integrating the mobile service into the business to engage with customers in the way that they choose.

Brands which understand the impact of mobile should be measuring mobile’s impact on influenced sales, total customer value and impact on the overall business. If customers can be encouraged to post reviews, they might also be inclined to engage further through social media. And sharing on mobile can help to build and support a brand-loyal base of customers.

In fact, it might be the case that 2016 won’t be the year of mobile after all, but the year when a true understanding of the importance of multi-channel, and the ability to service customers the way they prefer, actually becomes a reality.

But it’s not just brands that are going to be affected by the growth of mobile. The technological and corporate environment is likely to evolve, and the market needs to pay attention to development trends.

As customer expectations of convenience escalate, the pressure will be on firms to tap new technologies to serve customers in context where they already are, not where brands find it convenient to serve them. Firms will look to use context both to assemble and deliver experiences dynamically on their own and third-party platforms.

Forrester expects that consumers will continue to spend most of their time in only a few apps but will increasingly turn to aggregation apps and a handful of platforms to get the content and services they need. Capabilities like Apple’s iOS 9 Peek and Pop and services like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana will allow developers to address users’ mobile moments without writing individual mobile apps. While privacy remains a concern, the majority of customers are likely to continue to share data.

Big trends for 2016 include the real advent of big data, as connected devices and services from apps, cars, TVs, fitness bands, and scales begin to generate data about consumer usage, preferences, and environments at an unprecedented pace. In 2016, companies will begin to collect data from multiple sources, create insights through crowdsourcing and big data solutions, and begin to use the insights to deliver utility back to consumers. Digital platforms are expected to fuel their own product and service development in 2016.

Another thing we can expect to see are alternative ecosystems beyond Android and iOS emerge. New mobile platforms such as WeChat in China or Facebook Messenger in the US are quickly accumulating power as the owners of vast audiences and rich data about those consumers. In 2016, these ecosystems are expected to grow as brands look to serve existing customers in context and developers flock to platforms with large audiences.

Interestingly in 2015 only 18 per cent of US companies surveyed planned to spend more than $500,000 on building out their mobile services in 2015. 2016 could be the year it all changes, so good luck, have fun and success to you all.