In Depth

Mobile Becomes A Global Go-To


Half the battle in retail is making sure messaging is reaching the places where consumers are, but when the platforms they prefer are in near constant flux, this is easier said than done. Even if merchants have killer marketing campaigns in their back pockets, rolling them out on desktop when shoppers are on mobile or vice versa can be a waste of resources — and if omnichannel is the goal when only one medium would suffice, a tremendous waste of resources.

All the more reason for retailers to pay attention when reports, like the most recent one from the International Telecommunication Union, point to a landmark shift in how consumers get online.

The ITU releases its “Measuring the Information Society” report every year, but 2015’s iteration might go down as a milestone for the organization. For the first time in history, the ITU has found that the number of global mobile broadband subscriptions comprises the single largest connected demographic in the world at 47.2 percent. Households with Internet access came in just under mobile broadband with 46.4 percent, and fixed-broadband subscriptions lagged at 10.8 percent.

This combination of pathways to Internet access has brought a total of 3.2 billion individuals onto the World Wide Web. This surge in users jacking in through their phones presents a conundrum for retailers: Does this streamline their marketing efforts, or just add one more medium they’ll have to focus on?

According to data from comScore, all signs point to mobile becoming the dominant, if not the sole, preferred means of connecting to the Internet regardless of location or ethnicity. While some countries still lag behind others when it comes to infrastructure and data transmission speeds, a June 2014 report from comScore found that mobile app-based traffic had overtaken the same from desktop, and an April 2015 study explained that among users who access the Internet by just a single device, those ascribing to a mobile-only lifestyle (11.3 percent of consumers over 18 years of age) outnumbered their desktop-bound counterparts (10.6 percent) for the first time. Any way you slice it, a performance this strong from mobile is ignored by marketers at their own peril (and, most likely, their jobs).

But why look at contextless analytics reports for an indication on whether consumers are drifting irrevocably toward mobile for their retail needs? One might expect mobile to have staked out a secure place for itself on Black Friday, and a report from IBM Commerce confirms that fact. Mobile traffic outpaced desktop clicks on the unofficial official start of the holiday shopping season, with 57.2 percent of all online traffic funneling through smartphones, tablets and similar devices. Not only was this a 15.2-percent jump over mobile’s 2014 market share, but mobile also drove more than a third of all digital sales on Black Friday – a 30-percent spike in the right direction.

While this precipitous trend toward mobile may make some marketers’ jobs a little simpler, such a prodigious stream of consumers in mobile’s direction also raises question on how retailers plan on preparing for the surge. The Black Friday weekend already saw sites of retailers like Target buckle and crash under the weight of a digital human wave of shoppers, and fulfilling the ever-increasing number of orders also requires logistics to be scaleable to previously untested levels. Merchants that are experiencing technical and supply-side issues now can only imagine the trouble ahead if they don’t get into gear with mobile-first preparations.

In short, a move toward mobile might make be an easy choice for consumers, but retailers hoping for a panacea for all the issues facing omnichannel marketing will still have their own can of worms to deal with — even if mobile is all that remains by next year’s holiday shopping season.


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