Multi-screen shopping takes over from traditional channels, claims law firm

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Vanessa Barnett, partner and retail specialist at city law firm Charles Russell LLP, reviews Mega Monday and its impact on the retail industry

Last week’s Mega Monday (3 December 2012) was expected to be the UK’s biggest online shopping day with people taking to their computers, tablets and smart phones to buy must-have items in time for Christmas. Between 8:00pm and 9:00pm is usually the busiest shopping period on Mega Monday and Visa Europe predicted £320m will have been spent on its cards alone.  

And this year, perhaps for the first time, we expected to see Mega Monday manifesting itself as true multi-screen shopping. Why? Because consumers are evolving and are now using their computers, tablets and smart phones to construct customer journeys in a totally different way, as the statistics below show.  

On average, on a given day, consumer’s ‘online’ time is spread between four primary devices:

  • Smart phone: 17 minutes
  • Tablet: 30 minutes
  • Computer: 39 minutes
  • Television: 43 minutes

(Statistics in this article are from The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behaviour by Google, Sterling Brands and Ipsos (August 2012) (the “Study”)).

This ‘raw’ analysis is only a starting point, the study goes on to identify the device a consumer chooses is often driven by the context they find themselves in at the time. This can vary depending on the amount of time the consumer has to achieve a specific task, the goal they want to accomplish, their location, and their current attitude/state of mind. For example, no time at all to buy a party dress while at work for the Christmas party tonight is a very different context to plenty of time to buy a dress for a wedding next summer.

Consumers are also not compartmentalising tasks to devices, but move between devices to accomplish a given task – sometimes sequentially (beginning a transaction on one device, finishing on another), sometimes simultaneously (undertaking a transaction on one device, but reading information about the product from another). 

Shopping online is identified as one of the top activities performed sequentially between devices, with 67% of transactions started on one device and then continued on another (essentially, the urge to place an item in the basket has been captured immediately, but the check out process is undertaken later on).  

The sequential use of devices for shopping online breaks down as follows:

  • Of the 65% of purchases that begin on a smart phone, 61% continue onto a computer and 4% continue further onto a tablet
  • Of the 25% of purchases that begin on a computer, 19% continue onto a smart phone and 4% continue further onto a tablet
  • Of the 11% of transactions that begin on a tablet, 10% continue to a computer 

It’s also clear spontaneity plays a huge role in shopping – this is not a surprise. But it is interesting to see more spur of the moment shopping is captured on smart phones than computers. (Of all shopping activities captured by the study, 81% of smart phone shopping was spur of the moment, whereas only 58% on a computer was spur of the moment).

The fourth device listed above is television and the study confirms it does still have an influence over consumers – on smart phones 22% of searches were prompted by television (of which 17% were triggered by an advert but 7% were triggered by a programme). 

The role of search engines for online shopping also remains key – with 30% of consumers in the study accessing shopping content via search engines compared to 36% going straight to the retailer.

So what does all this mean for retailers seeking to capture their fair share of mobile commerce. In reality, it means covering all bases across all devices. 

From a customer engagement perspective, a new mindset is needed: there are no longer ‘in store’ customers and ‘online’ customers. There are just customers who are moving around a retailer’s channels on a much more fluid basis, both on the high street and using multi-screen devices. Customers are expecting a seamless experience regardless of device.  

What underpins the seamless experience is the technology used to deliver the site to customers. Retailers who are making the most of multi-screen shopping are in tune with this and have been investing in making sure they have three key things:

  • A technology platform which can deliver bespoke versions of the ‘web’ site dependent on the device being used to view it, whilst maintaining brand design and functional experience
  • The ability to track customer interactions across devices so that, for example, the shopping basket doesn’t empty just because the customer uses another device to view the site
  • Data protection sign-off/transparency to ensure maximum use of customer data across devices

The ability to provide that seamless experience to capture transactions across devices will be the winning factor for retailers on Mega Mondays – or any other shopping day.