Retailers Increasing Mobile, Social Initiatives to Target Always-​On Consumers

In an effort to better serve multi-​touchpoint, always-​on, and empowered consumers, a growing number of retailers are experimenting with mobile and social initiatives — some that are paying immediate dividends and some that are still in the speculative phase. According to a new report by Forrester Research for Shop​.org, 91% of retailers currently have a mobile strategy in place or in development (up from 74% in 2010). Additionally, 72% of retailers say they will increase their spending on social networks this year over 2010. 


Retailers report that 21% of all mobile traffic is coming from tablets, amazing considering the iPad was launched barely a year ago. Still, the overall amount of mobile traffic and revenue has not increased dramatically, suggesting that investment levels in site optimization may still be inadequate. For example, 48% of retailers report having a mobile-​optimized website; 35% have deployed an iPhone app; and 15% offer an Android app and an iPad app, respectively. Challenges for retailers include differentiating the consumer experience on a tablet versus a smartphone and figuring out features and functionality in dueling app/​mobile Web ecosystems.

After spending the last few years learning how to capitalize on social media and new mobile technologies, one of retailers’ main focuses right now seems to be leveraging the tremendous popularity of tablet devices, such as the iPad,” said Shop​.org Head of Research Fiona Swerdlow. “As sales channels continue to blur in retail, companies are creating mobile apps that make their brands seem current, entertaining, or fun, while at the same time creating a unique opportunity to connect with more shoppers than ever before.”


Compared with past years, social networks surfaced higher as an investment area among retailers. Social networks ranked fourth on the list of successful customer acquisition sources, up significantly from last year. Yet the ROI associated with social is muddy: 62% of retailers said the returns on social marketing strategies are unclear, and nearly the same percentage said the primary ROI from social marketing is listening to — and gaining a better understanding of — customers.

The data indicates that significant investments in social and mobile tactics will be in place this year,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president, principal analyst, Forrester Research. “Retail executives should have modest expectations for the benefits of social commerce. With regard to mobile, retailers should be working to increasingly integrate features and functionality into the physical store experience. While consumers may not be extensively exploring product information yet, basic store information, transparent pricing, and easy checkout capabilities are likely to be the most pressing opportunities for most sites in the near term.”

New data from's semi-​annual Simultaneous Media Usage survey, conducted by BIGresearch, highlights trends among tablet owners specifically, who report that they:

  • Often start online searches in response to traditional media. Traditional media – newspapers, magazines and face-​to-​face communication – are the leading triggers for two out of five tablet and smartphone users to start an online search.
  • Actively seek shopping input from others… One third of tablet users report that they “regularly” seek advice from others before buying products or services – compared with one quarter of smartphone owners and not quite a fifth of all adults.
  • …And are more likely to search online for products and services. The rich experience of the tablet likely enable 43% of tablet owners to regularly search for product information and comparison shop, versus a little over a quarter of all adults. Over a third of tablet and smartphone owners report “regularly” searching online specifically for clothing and shoes, compared to one quarter of all adults.
  • Avidly use social media, though less so for shopping. Almost two-​thirds of tablet and smartphone owners say they regularly use Facebook. That said, social media triggers just one quarter of tablet and smartphone owners to start an online search. But once a search is completed, one third of these consumers turn to social media to communicate with others about that service, product or brand.
  • Are open to video content. With all the focus on investing in video content online, retailers may take heart that almost one third “regularly” watch the video commercial that often plays before other video content. Again, this may have a lot to do with the experience that the tablet affords – still, it’s almost twice the number of smartphone owners who say they watch video commercials regularly.
[Source:  “The State Of Retailing Online 2011: Marketing, Social, and Mobile.”  Forrester Research/  3 May 2011.  Web.  5 May 2011;  "Simultaneous Media Usage Survey."  BIGresearch/  December 2010.  Web.  5 May 2011.]