Bricks-and-mortar brands are accelerating the integration of physical and digital customer experiences, with mobile bridging the two worlds.

Kia Saedi, regional sales director, West Coast at Adjust

With a sudden shock to consumer buying patterns forced by COVID-19, many brick-and-mortar companies are eyeing a switch to mobile to shore up their bottom lines.

An Adobe report on U.S. spending habits has estimated that the pandemic has hastened the American public’s shift towards ecommerce spending by four to six years. In May, total online spending hit a staggering $82.5 billion, up 77.0% year-on-year.

Firms that are paying attention are following consumer trends, with a 2019 eMarketer survey showing more evidence of the move to mobile shopping. More than 50.0% of U.S. respondents had used a mobile retail app to buy a product or service in the past month, and the same report showing that mobile conversions are growing faster than online shopping overall.

This shift to mobile can be a challenge for some retailers, which, until recently, have placed a greater focus on in-store than online. For many, a physical presence is a huge part of brand DNA and appeal. But mobile can be a powerful connector. Today, the first touchpoint many shoppers have with a store or product is generally online.

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Retailers that can combine a strong physical experience and online presence will be best-equipped to navigate the COVID-19 era. 

Ecommerce is on the rebound

The broader app economy was largely resilient in the face of COVID-19, with people turning to apps more than ever while hunkering down. Ecommerce apps didn’t weather the storm as well in the early weeks of the pandemic, however. Adjust’s recently released App Trends report shows that ecommerce app installs trended down 12% week-on-week through March 2020, as companies pulled advertising, with a decrease in paid installs of 35% from March to April.

Yet new data by Adjust suggest these key indicators have risen back to near pre-COVID levels. This follows an overall recovery in digital ad spending in general, as the economy prepares for more activity. Also, some companies that kept their marketing budget steady during the initial phase of the coronavirus outbreak—when pandemic anxiety paralyzed the industry—were able to turn their lower cost per impressions into growth.

In the United States specifically, large footprint big-box retailers have weathered the storm better than competitors by leveraging omnichannel. This resilience is in sharp contrast to smaller firms struggling to adapt to the new trading landscape. By utilizing the advantages of large-footprint warehouses or stores, while powering conversion using mobile technology, these retail giants ensure their success going forward.

Companies have also stepped up their game by focusing on re-engaging users. Comparing the last week of March to the first week of July, users returning to their favored ecommerce platforms increased 27.5% globally, according to Adjust’s data, with the growth attributed to a combination of paid campaigning and users finally ready to purchase again. This is less than the 43.0% of users reattributed in March. But it shows that strong growth in retargeting has continued through the opening-up process.

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Use analytics to engage customers better 

Data is the single most significant advantage digital has over in-store, and these insights can enhance a brand’s entire business strategy. Mobile data has traditionally always been very siloed—but there’s a realization now that mobile is often a business’ closest touchpoint with its customers. In the U.S., the average person spends four hours on their mobile device every day, with 88% of that time spent in apps. This figure is sure to soar in the coming years.

With consumer demand for personalized content at an all-time high, data is also essential for creating mobile ads that will secure consumers’ initial interest. These ads can be based on demographic or psychographic data, previous activity (such as viewed items), or tailored to where customers are within the marketing funnel.

Also, consumer behavior is evolving rapidly as we move through the phases of lockdown and reopening. McKinsey’s U.S. Sentiment Survey found that 61% of Americans have shopped online during the pandemic, with 31% of respondents first-time e-shoppers. With customers like these, who are used to traditional retail, keeping them engaged and demonstrating value is critical.

From there, analytics can also help determine which creative products and messages resonate best with customers — so brands can further iterate and refine campaigns.

Learn from brands successfully bridging physical and digital 

For retailers just starting their mobile journeys, it can look like an uphill battle. But there are plenty of once brick-and-mortar brands that successfully made the transition and are now accelerating the integration of physical and digital customer experiences, with mobile bridging these two worlds.

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Seeking to jolt sales amid the pandemic, Starbucks is fast-tracking the opening of “pickup only” stores, while reformatting 400 cafés with a convenience-led drive-thru, curbside pickup and delivery offerings. 

“This strategy aligns closely with rapidly evolving customer preferences that have accelerated as a result of COVID-19, including higher levels of mobile ordering, more contactless pickup experiences and reduced in-store congestion, all of which naturally allow for greater physical distancing,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and finance chief Patrick Grismer told investors.

Spanish fashion giant Zara is similarly doubling down on investments in its ecommerce business, planning to pump $1 billion into its online offering over the next three years to beef up digital sales. Combined with a plan to shutter 1,200 shops, Zara is aiming to have 25% of its sales come from online by 2022. 

“The overriding goal between now and 2022 is to speed up full implementation of our integrated store concept, driven by the notion of being able to offer our customers uninterrupted service no matter where they find themselves, on any device and at any time of the day,” Pablo Isla, CEO of Zara’s parent company Inditexe, said in a statement.

For traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, mobile gives them yet another way to reach and understand customers. And as the most personal and omnipresent channel, it can offer critical data on customer journeys, preferences and browsing habits. Combined with an outstanding in-store strategy, retailers can continue to thrive in a competitive marketplace. 

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Adjust is a global app marketing platform specializing in mobile measurement, fraud prevention, cybersecurity and automation. 

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