Spread of mobile-led commerce is acting as boosters for brick-and-mortar sales as well when done right. Image Credit: Jose Luis Barros/©Gulf News

With shopping trolleys in one hand and a smartphone in the other, the mobile phone has evolved from a simple texting and talking device into a constant companion for shoppers, having an ability to influence people along every step of their consumer journey.

Shopping via mobile devices, computers, tablets and connected devices is now a part of the everyday lives of consumers. Estimates show global retail eCommerce sales will be $3.56 trillion in 2019, commanding 13.7 per cent of total retail sales and an increase of 21.5 per cent over 2018, (excluding travel), according to a report by Dubai Economy and Visa Middle East.

Instant switch to mobile

High digital and social penetration has meant that GCC consumers have jumped straight to mobile commerce (or mcommerce), and are now operating across digital platforms with ease. Even excluding the crucial B2B and C2C eCommerce, food delivery, travel, entertainment, services, and automobiles categories, MENA ecommerce is forecast to reach $28.5 billion this year.

With an annual growth rate of 25 per cent, MENA is the fastest growing region in the world for ecommerce. UAE and Saudi Arabia are emerging as the key players - UAE’s ecommerce sales are projected to hit $16 billion in 2019, followed by Saudi Arabia, at $7.7 billion, according to the report.

In a multi-device world, people are discovering on one device, researching on another and converting on a third. But it’s not only about the mobile experience for these shoppers; it’s about having a seamless experience across a variety of channels on the path to purchase.

Online serves all

Mobile and internet serve as an inspiration for buying, but contrary to the popular perception that online mobile shopping is bringing an end to the physical shopping experience, it is in fact becoming a bigger complement to brick-and-mortar stores. For instance, in beauty, it’s well known that people may try products in stores but buy on their phones.

It’s also true the other way around — mobile can be a gateway for brands to lead customers to in-store experiences. Even among mobile-first shoppers, the in-store experience may still be a motivator. Mobile-first shoppers say they care about store pick-ups more than surveyed global shoppers, and they are also more likely than global shoppers to make a purchase on their phones while in the store, according to a Facebook 2016 Holiday Study commissioned in the US.

With more than 5 million businesses actively using the WhatsApp Business app each month, the rise of the “M-factor” is changing the path to purchase, and presenting brands with a chance to act — to be bolder, move faster, be adaptive and build a future-ready business.

Store sales

While the digital opportunity alone is tremendous, the way digital and physical environments are intersecting and amplify each other is also promising. Digital technology and easy access to digital information not only affects sales within digital channels, but also impacts in-store sales.

Ninety per cent of retail still happens in physical stores, but “digitally influenced” retail (ecommerce plus store purchases with a digital touchpoint) may already for more than 58 per cent of total sales in the US and 45 per cent in EMEA, according to Forrester’s 2017 estimates.

Today 80 per cent of Instagrammers follow a business and 130 million Instagram accounts tap on a shopping post to learn more about products every month. For example, Max Fashion, the Middle East’s leading fashion retailer found that Facebook ads using store sales optimisation were more effective than its typical campaigns, increasing sales by 5.9 per cent in the UAE and 8.3 per cent in Saudi Arabia.

To make a meaningful comparison of results between store sales optimisation and reach campaigns, Max Fashion worked with the platform’s measurement team for its “End of Spring Sale” campaign to identify a testing method to show whether store sales optimisation could improve the impact of its existing campaigns.

As we shift to a more visual language on mobile — one that is made up of photos, emojis, stickers and video — brands are now rethinking how they present product details in a visually impactful way that’s clear, yet small-screen friendly. These brands are also focusing on eliminating the barriers that stop people from buying on mobile, like by making it easy to enter payment information and offering multiple shipping options.

Brands are also using local cultural moments, like the UAE National Day holidays, to test the effectiveness of ads while also driving app installs and web purchases.

Thumb rules

As integrated online/offline shopping becomes the new normal, it is important for retailers to understand the intersection of physical and digital and how it continues to evolve into an intimate relationship. Ultimately, it’s about making the experience physically or digitally more richer, more dimensional experience for consumers.

Viewing the path to purchase through separate channels—mobile versus desktop versus offline—doesn’t reflect the way the world is changing. The rise in mCommerce presents brands with a chance to rewrite the rules of success by adapting to change and building a future-ready business.

Shant Oknayan is Group Commercial Director, MENA at Facebook.