Mobile is the New Mall: A Joyeur Shopaholic on the Future of eCommerce

August 08, 2012 - by elizabethkeeler

I am a shopper.  I belong to that special demographic that retailers drool over and spend their waking lives trying to understand.  I am also a research analyst for a cloud company.  As such, I have a sometimes painful awareness of the gap that separates my transforming shopping habits from the mobile experience offered by most retailers.  I have therefore decided to indulge in a Moment of Truth.  Think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Future coming to deliver an urgent message to the retailers who will survive into a digital future.  My message has two words: availability and latency.

Currently, the number of people using smart phones is 953 million, 64% of whom shop using their mobile device. By 2016, the number of smart phone users will equal a staggering 4.8 billion.  That’s potentially 3 billion people shopping via mobile. You do the math and I will give you a motto: Mobile is the New Mall.  But it’s not just the where, it’s the when that is changing.  In the old days, shopping was a scheduled block of time, a special trip to the outlets, or a reward for a bad day.  Now it is a reward for a bad moment. Let me profile this for you with …

 A Day in the Life of the Online Shopper. 

6:45 am: Wake up to alarm bleeping on my smart phone.  Reach over to push ‘snooze’.  Notice email in inbox.  Curiousity stronger than sleep.  Gilt Groupe!  Surprise - another sale.  It never gets old.  This day is lookin’ good. 

7:30 am: Waiting for bus but my thumbs require constant screen-time. Oh, HELLoo Ikea online shopping! 

11:00 am: I run down to Pete’s Coffee.  The line, the line, the line!  Instead of tapping my feet impatiently I’ll focus on clothing them in a beautiful pair of Delman flats …there’s really nothing like an addiction.

Noon: Now waiting at the crowded Falafel stand on Drumm. I can either stare at the bankers in my line (a weird species), the falafel man (uhh), the pop stand…OR the latest Gap sales.  Smiley.    

8:00 pm: I am grabbing dinner with friends.  "Ooh I saw this on Pinterest..which sites do you use?"  

9, 10, 12, 1, 7, 9: I am waiting for the elevator, I am in the elevator, I am walking out of the elevator. I am texting, tweeting, checking, shopping. 

 10:30pm: I indulge in some late-night mobile browsing. So sue me.

On any given day, I might shop 10 times before the day is done.  I certainly don’t purchase each time - I wish! - but looking becomes an unconscious impulse.  The retailer that can fluidly insert itself into my flow of impulses captures my wallet.  Fjord, one of the world’s largest digital design agencies, stresses the value of our “constant partial attention” in its Digital Trends.  Mobile apps of the future must be seamlessly integrated into the life of the end-user – a liquid experience.  This is the new age of e-commerce - a seamless, slick, pleasurable slide into and out of my incessant activities.

What happens when I can’t access a site because it’s slow, or stuck, or inaccessible by design?  You lose me.  I only had 2 minutes - the bus has arrived - the impulse is lost.  Worse, the flow of impulse creation is damaged and may not be retrievable.

"Our customers have learned to expect an instant shopping experience that's fun, engaging and constantly updated with new merchandise every time they visit our site," said Blake Irvin, Systems Engineering Manager at ModCloth. "In our competitive market, every additional second of latency translates into a 10 or 20 percent hit to your sales conversion rate ... milliseconds really, really matter.”

Ask me what this has to do with cloud computing?  Everything.  Your customers may not realize they care so much about your technical plumbing, and they may give you a blank stare when you mention ‘availability’ or ‘latency’, but their wallets will answer for them.  The competitive edge is double-sided, both from a customer perspective and from a cost-savings perspective.  Retailers that are alive tomorrow will be surviving on a diet of healthier margins from better infrastructure and higher revenues from mobile sales.

Unlike Dickens’s ghosts, my dearest wish is to see fat retailers counting their massive pile of gold coins one by one.  From this shopaholic and Joyeur, then, may I suggest the following idea for future digital success: availability and latency are not items to scrooge on.

Elizabeth Keeler is a research analyst at Joyent and also does market development with a focus on Europe and eCommerce.  Prior to her MBA she worked as a researcher and writer in Vancouver, Canada.  Twitter follow @ElizabethKeeler.
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