Take advantage of what you know about the consumer, and make mobile shopping easy and fun.

This holiday season has been one of the best in retail history, with sales already hitting record numbers early in the month—but that wealth isn’t evenly distributed. The holidays aren’t just the most lucrative part of the shopping year, they’re also the most competitive, which means that strategy becomes more important than ever and companies who choose the wrong strategies suffer the consequences. This year’s winning strategy is clear: an emphasis on mobile sales and marketing.

Adobe’s eminentBlack Friday report made dozens of headlines this year because of the unexpectedly massive impact of mobile sales. Over one billion dollars were spent over mobile devices on Black Friday—a number far higher than anticipated. The same trend has persisted in holiday shopping since, and the companies that were equipped for the onslaught of mobile users came out with a major advantage as a result.

A strategy that works well during high-intensity times is just as valuable the rest of the year, and businesses that want to stay relevant will need to find ways to engage their mobile audience in 2017.

How the Smartphone Stole Christmas

Almost every modern retailer understands the importance of having an online presence, but the big takeaway of this year’s sales results is that the internet isn’t enough. Cyber Monday sales were lower than expected and 38 percent came through mobile devices. Clearly, consumers aren’t interested in hunting products down, even online—they want to be met where they’re already spending their time: on mobile.

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The trickiest aspect of mobile marketing is navigating the line between engaging users and annoying them with unwanted advertising. Unlike a store or even a banner ad on a website, people’s smartphones are their personal space. A message that might not be invasive on a billboard would be extremely unwelcomed as a push notification. For that reason, companies need to be deeply thoughtful about the way that they use mobile promotion. Usefulness always trumps self-advocacy. The companies that have been the most successful this year were the ones that focused on helpfulness and convenience.

For example, major retailers like Walmart invested heavily on mobile promotions this holiday season,offering some promotions exclusively through their app. They’re indisputably reaping the benefit; more than70 percent of its website traffic on Black Friday was driven by mobile. Smartphone users who might not otherwise have intended to shop were drawn in through notifications on their phone, and they were able to make purchases in only a few clicks.  With more Americans traveling for the holidays this year than ever have in the past nine years, convenience is key. Many people in transit don’t have the luxury of stopping to shop in stores or browse in-depth online, but a smartphone is almost always accessible. Those same behavior patterns will also hold true into the New Year.

People don’t necessarily shop in dedicated multi-hour increments anymore; they browse for a few minutes at a time while on a train or waiting for an appointment. They search for an item in the instant that it’s top of mind, buy it and move on with their day. The ease of digital shopping combined with the constant accessibility of smartphones have changed shopping into a fluid experience that consumers integrate seamlessly into the rest of their day–which means that retailers have to learn to play by a new set of rules.

Romancing the Smartphone User

Mobile is clearly important for retailers, but not all strategies are created equal; businesses need to both delight customers and drive revenue. To make mobile marketing useful rather than irritating, the first step for any retailer is knowing its customers. That means recognizing overarching trends in consumer preferences, but also uncovering the specific preferences and behaviors of each user. From there, the company’s job is to create a mobile experience that users enjoy and engage with, which still pays dividends. Following a few best practices will help any mobile retailer stay ahead of the curve:

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1)      Examine the available data and align campaigns to specific settings. Blast promotions are an easy way to alienate users immediately. Advertisements are off-putting, but services are valuable to consumers. One way to turn product promotion into something more akin to a service is to recommend items based on specific and relevant guidelines. Many applications will have access to individual user information like location, past behavior, and popular browsing times as well as general information about wider consumer patterns. Brick-and-mortar stores might use this information to sense when shoppers are in the store and offer special deals to those walking by. Strictly digital retailers can tailor promotions to circumstances where the customer’s need would be highest, such as flagging winter scarves when temperatures in an area hit record lows.

2)      Use multimedia to spare consumers reading time and pique their interest. A picture is worth a thousand words and an emoji is worth a thousand pictures. Both options are better than text when it comes to mobile marketing. Although many companies track application success by time spent on the app, for retail that’s actually a bad metric—a frustrated user trying to figure out how to work an app is far less desirable than a satisfied one who breezes through it. Using photos or videos to get messages across quickly and engagingly.  One popular European airline switched from using a traditional email-based customer satisfaction survey and getting a.7 percent response rate. When they switched to using a mobile survey with three simple emojis to choose from, completion rates jumped to over 70 percent. Consumers want content that helps them, entertains them or saves them time. Media is an easy way to do all three.

3)      Test results and keep making changes. Even the most pleasing apps don’t always translate into conversions, so retailers need to experiment to find the most lucrative approaches. Recent Swrve research found that A/B testing different mobile experiences can boost revenue by 24 percent. This is because user preferences are constantly changing and buying behavior can be influenced by factors ranging from time-of-day to application interface. The only way to ensure that the best practices win out for each customer is to cycle through a few options. This also lays a foundation of learning as companies continue to refine their mobile strategy. If, for example, push notifications triggered by certain behaviors tend to work more effectively than timed ones, then it’s probably worth digging deeper into how those actions lead to purchase.

Maintaining a shopper’s full attention is no longer a guarantee for retailers in the digital “age of me.” Consumers have decided how they prefer to engage with their favorite brands. It’s now up to the digital marketers to create the type of great mobile experiences that people simply expect.

Swrve provides mobile marketing automation technology.

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