Smartphones are increasingly dominating the retail customer journey

23 February 2017 5 min. read

In 2016 around 49% of e-commerce transactions involved a smartphone, this is expected to increase to more than 80% by 2020, finds a new study. Smartphone users interact differently with online webshops, spending less time there and with different priorities. Meeting customer expectations on their smartphones is becoming increasingly important, with the study showing that UK retail websites remain slow compared to that of international competitors – the key performance criteria for consumers.

The use of smartphones in the wider online retail customer purchase journey hit 50% in 2016, this is expected to rise further, hitting around 80% by 2020. In a bid to better understand the trend, a new report from OC&C Strategy Consultants delves into the details.

Smartphone involvement in the total e-commerce market

The UK e-commerce market continues to grow apace, hitting around £50 billion last year. Around 27% of those transactions were performed through a smartphone, representing around £14 billion in total value. Smartphones were also used more widely in the purchase journey of 22% of e-commerce interactions that finally led to a transaction on a none mobile device.

By 2020 the trend is projected to shift significantly in favour of smartphones, which are, according to the firm, going to account for around 62% of all transactions. More widely, the authors note that they expect mobile to, in the coming years, redefine the retail experience for consumers both on- and off-device. "We expect mobile to be so influential that by 2020 80% of online purchases will involve a smartphone – but for retailers, the time to act is now. The retail leaders of the future will be those that think ‘mobile-first’ now and are ready not just to respond, but to lead this change.”

Ranking of key performance criteria by mission

The consulting firm asked respondents to rank key performance criteria for e-commerce journeys for smartphone interactions, by the different missions they may be on. Interestingly, the ‘speed of the website to load’ was, across all missions, ranked the number one most important key performance criteria. Having clear information on stock availability came second in all criteria bar ‘on the go’ research. Being easy to use on a small screen came third for ‘finding information in store’, ‘checking logistical information’ and ‘urgent purchases’. ‘Having user reviews’ came in third for shopping at home, while it came in second for ‘on the go’ research.

The importance of a fast website for e-commerce sites may be being missed in the UK, with the research finding that UK websites are on average 10%-25% slower to load on smartphones than US companies of the same type, while a study from Google shows that only two of the top twenty fastest loading retail sites in Europe are in the UK.

Use of a smartphone alongside other devices

The analysis by OC&C also sought to understand how smartphones are being used in the wider e-commerce journey, across a range of touch points. In terms of being ‘inspired’, whereby users browse products and decide what to buy, around 29% mainly use a smartphone, while 38% use a smartphone alongside another device. Laptops and tablets are used for this by 23% and 10% of respondents respectively.

For the research side of the journey, which involves price comparison and user reviews, 39% of respondents use a smartphone alongside other devices, 25% say that they just use a smartphone, while 26% just use a laptop. To check the logistics process, including store location and product availability, 42% of respondents use a smartphone – with the lowest number just using a laptop or desktop, at 16%.

The study also notes the importance of the smartphone in the engagement process, the writing of reviews, seeking of opinions, and commenting on social media, with 36% using only a smartphone, 35% using a range of devices including a smartphone.  

Average minutes spent per visit

Furthermore, consumers spend smaller amounts of time per visit when using a smartphone over desktop devices, on major retail websites. On Amazon for instance, desktop users spend an average of 8.5 minutes on the site, while smartphone users 2.7 minutes. Argos too has a considerable disparity, at 7 minutes for desktop users and 2.8 minutes for smartphone users.

James Sturrock, Managing Director of Moonpig, remarks about the shift, "We've seen a definite shift towards content snacking along with the consumer shift towards mobile devices - customer engagement is coming in shorter and shorter periods, and we've had to adapt our content, including our website merchandising, social marketing and our email strategy accordingly."

Extent to which consumers prefer to use new technologies

The authors in addition identified the extent to which customers prefer to use new technologies for tasks that formerly involved speaking to a store representative. The biggest shift is in a preference to use online tools to check stock levels, cited by 73% of respondents, followed by a preference to find answers to questions online, cited by 65% of respondents.

Phones are also used to find items at other locations if they are in store and the item is out of stock, cited by 50% of respondents. Another area of potential concern for stores is that around 40% of consumers trusts information they find online more than they trust an in store assistant.