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February 27, 2015

You’ve also heard that more than half of Web activity is now on mobile platforms, a phenomenon that’s exploded in the past three years with the emergence of tablets. So you figure you’ve got to make your online retail presence mobile-friendly. That’s why you’re listening to that sharp-talking app developer who’s telling you that if you let him custom-develop an app for your store, you’ll simplify the process of letting your customers buy from you in the mobile environment. It sounds expensive and it’s way outside your comfort zone but if this is really where retailing is going you don’t want to be left behind.

But before you commit the dollars, you should know something important. People shopping on mobile digital platforms are using apps but for the most part they are only doing so for the top three online retailers: Amazon, Apple and eBay. Almost everyone else is still going to the browsers on their mobile devices. As primitive as it seems, they’re actually opening up Chrome, Firefox or even Internet Explorer and pulling up retailers’ websites to find the products they want and to make their purchases.

It doesn’t take a technology genius to understand why, according to Kate Dreyer, lead corporate communications manager for comScore, Inc. “The reason for the contrast is simple: mobile users only download so many apps. App real estate is a limited commodity, as is a mobile device’s storage capabilities. The result is that most people are only going to download their favorite one to three retail apps and use their Web browser if they ever need to shop online somewhere else.”

If that strikes you as surprising, think about how you use your own device. The apps you use most often might be featured on one section of your homescreen, which may hold 16 to 20 apps depending on the size of your screen. Everything else gets housed back in your broader app list.
So as much as you’d like to think someone will shop your digital store just about every day, and thus make space for your app, the reality is that even your most loyal customers are probably buying from you much more sporadically. To bookmark you on their browser is no big deal but to download an app and take up precious memory in their device can be a pretty tough sell.

But here’s where you can still connect regularly with the digital shopper, even if you decide not to invest in an app. According to comScore, 68 percent of all social media activity now occurs on mobile devices. That makes creating a robust and engaging social media presence for your store an absolute must. All your customers will have to do to get information is click the link you put in their social media feeds. By allowing them to regularly see your offerings, specials and new products, you give them a direct link to what they need without making them first open their mobile browsers. Of course, be sure to combine these offerings with enough fun and engaging nonsales material so that they don’t feel you’re just spamming them all the time.

Remember that engaging customers in the digital space will probably have to start in your physical space. Every time a customer walks in the door, it’s an opportunity to invite them to like your Facebook page or to follow you on Twitter or Instagram. It could be as simple as giving each customer a little card at the point of purchase. This easily lets them know how to find you on social media and can also let them know they’ll get access to some sort of special offer if they do so.

Multiplatform retailing is changing quickly. The wisdom that applied three years ago is largely irrelevant today because of all the advances that have occurred both with respect to the devices people use and the platforms available on them. Taking advantage of the technology absolutely requires pet retailers to follow advances and consider making adjustments when the time is right.

But one thing has been consistently true: There is often an innovation on its way that makes the investment in custom technology or applications irrelevant and unnecessary, so it’s wise to hold off unless you’ve thoroughly researched your needs. The more you know about what’s out there and what’s coming, the better positioned you are to make a good choice.

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