Mobile commerce is expected to reach $208.29 billion in the U.S. in 2018, consuming nearly 40 percent of e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer.

Eyes locked, thumbs racing — the smartphone is no doubt the digital extension of the consumer’s thoughts and desires. Steadily welcomed within the e-commerce buildout by brands and retailers, mobile commerce, as indicated in eMarketer’s projections is expected to reach $208.29 billion in the U.S. in 2018, consuming nearly 40 percent of e-commerce sales.

Today, both mobile web and mobile apps are thought of as the “connective tissue” between online and in-store experiences, as referred to in separate data from eMarketer’s updated holiday forecast. And as m-commerce gains momentum, democratizes shopping and receives widespread support as a necessary arm in omnichannel success, a “new normal” or second wave of mobile commerce adoptions is agitated.

This new wave in m-commerce is fueled by the fact that there’s little value in empty app downloads wherein the consumer later deletes it for uselessness or lack of innovation. Retailers must remember, although the consumer’s gaze is fixed on their screens, their attention spans wane for overcomplicated apps, wonky mobile checkouts and any inkling of friction. And in some cases, a brand may be best to forfeit the idea of a dedicated app altogether — instead optimizing their mobile web site experience, to encourage idling hands at the e-checkout, and toward a purchase in store.

The next frontier in mobile commerce is gained with excessive, albeit obsessive, insights into the consumer, and may ironically signal a back-to-basics approach to — faces and physical spaces.

Building an engaged community

Social marketplaces are placing relevancy on community as a necessary advancer of mobile commerce, because “while mobile shopping offers accessibility and ease to the shopping experience, it also takes away the human-to-human connection,” said Manish Chandra, founder and chief executive officer at Poshmark, the largest peer-to-peer social marketplace where users can shop more than 75 million items and 5,000 brands each other’s closets.

Mobile commerce isn’t just starting conversations, it’s keeping them with its consumers and allowing a platform for social sharing, inspiration and immersion. Whether gathering opinions or scouring outfit inspiration, Chandra believes consumers should be “active participants in the brand and retail experience.”

“Oftentimes, the chance to share opinions and influence one another dictates the purchasing of goods. Consumers want to be inspired, and with fashion and apparel brands, in particular, there is an opportunity to facilitate engagement, influence and inspiration using the mobile platform. By creating a sense of community between other buyers, and offering opportunities for engagement, consumers become a part of something bigger: a more meaningful shopping experience,” reiterated Chandra in his response to WWD.

Other ways Poshmark is fostering community and connection is through their real-time, in-app “Posh Parties,” which gather sellers to match party-selling guidelines wherein the theme may be “Best in Jackets & Coats” or “Everything Plus-Size” parties for example. And a shopping party isn’t simply a digital innovation, it’s a digital rendition of those real-life experiential events, such as pop-ups or in-store parties, Millennials and Gen Z are craving.

Bringing the in-person party to mobile, in-app Posh Parties curate goods from the community of sellers.  Courtesy Image

Similarly, Maya Mikhailov, cofounder and chief marketing officer at GPShopper, a native mobile app solution offering scalable and secure apps from Synchrony servicing retailers such as Boohoo, Crate & Barrel and Steve Madden, agreed that “retailers planning their tech strategy for the next five to 10 years must stop becoming caught up in the technology of the app build, and use it as a platform of engagement.”

Increasingly giving a face to the mobile community, and the individual consumer, Mikhailov stated how “most have already embraced the first wave of mobile integration,” but opportunity exists to further personalize the mobile experience.”

“With the consent of the consumer, retailers are given access to incredible amounts of data that can be used to individualize and better the shopping experience — leading to greater efficiency, loyalty and sales,” Mikhailov said.

The next wave, or “best next step for retailers, is to design a mobile experience that is superior — infused with top-tier customer service and hyper-personalization,” only then will consumers feel comfortable divulging intimate shopping details to retailers. Onward, the opportunities are endless, according to Mikhailov, for providing enhanced and immersive experiences.

Every retailer’s mobile strategy will differ, and what works for one, may not work for another. The key is to unify and extend the mobile real estate as it speaks toward brand values, and for some that investment means a community in its own right.

Enhancing in-person moments

But giving a face to the consumer isn’t without challenges, as younger generations are better able to sniff out fakeness through a proliferation of “personalized” ads, which are great in theory. Today’s personalization, as it is for many brands, still operates as a one-way conversation with brands swallowing personal data to pitch better products to an individual customer. As it is in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” with Gatsby eyeing the green light with equal parts hopefulness and longing, so it is with the retailer and the consumer — hoping to be invited across and sanctioned into longtime loyalty.

Mobile is not exclusive to its hardware confines of the smartphone, it extends to the in-store experience by leveraging the sales associates who use them to inform and guide the customer journey.

“The most underestimated aspect of mobile commerce is that it also enables in-store associates to have a deeper connection with shoppers,” said Lori Mitchell-Keller, copresident of SAP Industries, an enterprise planning software division from SAP, offering business intelligence consumer, financial and energy sectors, among others.

Clienteling is nothing new, but the advantages of mobile is that consumer shopping history and preferences are available in real-time, better aiding upsell and cross-sell opportunities while forging a long-term impression. Two areas where this has been seen are on the selling floor and the runway. For example, and as mentioned in response to WWD by Mitchell-Keller, Ulta beauty utilized its mobile app insights to aid in-store upsell and Badgley Mischka enchanted front-row viewers with real-time product point-and-capture in an effort to build loyalty and engage customers with mobile in non-obtrusive, multidimensional interaction.

Locating the best value and incentivizing consumers

Favored for its untethered convenience and freedom, the next forefront of mobile commerce advancement is likely to further amplify this freedom — essentially viewing mobile as a shopping companion, exposing consumers stride-by-stride to deals and special offers through location data. This advancement is defined by capturing value where younger generations see it by informing them of discounts, deals and exclusives.

“Retailers and fashion apparel brands can better meet the demands of an m-commerce consumer through location data,” allowing retailers and brands the ability to obtain insights about “their customers’ real-world behavior and intent,” said Eric Hadley, chief marketing officer at GroundTruth — a location technology service provider with retail clients such as Timberland, Athleta and L’occitane.

Shoppers are already surfing the web to compare prices, read reviews, pick up in-store, ship to home and check in-stock availability, so a matched sense of convenience and pleasure is also expected in a brand’s brick-and-mortar presence.

Any invasion of privacy can and will be rebuked by consumers, so businesses must utilize location data in a “privacy-safe and responsible manner.” From there, information about pop-up shops, special offers or in-store exclusives can be sculpted with location data, matching the consumer with their favorite stores’ as they pass them on the street. “Location technology is a powerful tool for marketers to reach consumers at the right time, in the right place with the right content,” said Michelle Skupin, senior director of marketing and communications at RetailMeNot.

Garnering survey data, RetailMeNot, a “savings destination” that connects upward of 70,000 international brand partners with their shopping audience, enticing them to purchase with coupons, codes, cash back, browser extensions and discount gift cards, sees how mobile has grown since early internal discussions on mobile as a connector of both digital and physical spaces.

Users can opt-in to receive RetailMeNot push notifications and location services.  Kaley Roshitsh/WWD

In their consumer holiday survey study, conducted by Kelton Global in July 2018, RetailMeNot reported 65 percent of Millennials were planning to “purchase on mobile,” compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers and 30 percent of Baby Boomers. Data is from a sampling of 1,034 U.S. consumers aged 18 and over in anticipation to the holiday shopping season.

Combing the webs for discounts, recession-scarred Millennials are even more inclined to use their phones to find the best deals while in stores with 45 percent of Millennials using their smartphones “to check prices or use mobile coupons.” And for RetailMeNot, this is substantial with “more than half of [their] mobile app users” opting in to location services and push notifications.

Fencing consumers within geo-targeted areas of their favorite shops, RetailMeNot’s strategy is further aided by push notifications sent “at the right time alerting [customers] to an in-store coupon or sale.”

According to Skupin, RetailMeNot poses a “high rate of opt-in for location services” and is accredited to “value [customers] receive in return: receiving the right content, at the right time and in the right place.”

Universally, certain actions stand apart for consumers — the ability to “favorite” stores or add products to a wish list is one which is in line with current user patterns. Granting customers the convenience to revisit their shopping cart, or better yet — seamlessly transition across mediums, while welcoming timely notifications is a modern viewpoint of mobile commerce. While no brand’s mobile strategy is perfect, testing content and how the message is received across unified mediums should be an experiment for relevancy in today’s digital age. As Skupin mentioned, RetailMeNot is “continuously testing new forms of content, like using influencers and new types of social media content such as Facebook Live” to reengage their consumer.

So, in response to the sea of marketing personalization opportunities, the medium is important, but the message may be increasingly more potent. The verdict: target Millennials with real-time content, relevant notifications and experimentation.

Creating taste for price parity

Similarly, pinning a “mobile-first” strategy, with 80 percent of more than 250 million monthly active users worldwide, accessing via a mobile device is Pinterest. For brands and retailers, mobile enlightenment will likely entail “frictionless commerce” and greater strides toward convenience. And in a world where shoppers are on their couch, walking their dog and virtually anywhere and everywhere with their mobile, a new development may be as simple as “price parity,” according to Amy Vener, who has four years heading retail vertical strategy at Pinterest. Crafting convenience involves a consistent price for seamless movement from in-store to online, and from there a frictionless checkout or the trophied “one-click” checkout.

Alongside that, effective marketing spend is read through tailored messages and the data to justify, perhaps comparing against in-store foot traffic of local stores. With its pinners, or the active user group comprising Pinterest, machine-learning allows users to receive “personalization based on taste” which may be another layer of emotional resonance that serves to separate its in-app experience at the forefront of product discovery, fostering “new demand.” In a visual interface ruled by “tastegraph,” digitally native brands such as Apple, Allbirds and Patagonia have found fellowship among like-minded aesthetics, creating new demand.

As mobile commerce strategies evolve — price and product consistency, convenience at the e-checkout, community and clienteling will continue to be ruling themes across shopping modems, dictating a democratic yet individualized shopping path.