Lessons Learned From The 2016 Holiday Shopping Season

0aAlan Knitowski PhunwareDespite some reports of a less-than-stellar return, the 2016 holiday shopping season amassed record-breaking sales for the retail industry.  Black Friday generated a whopping $3.34 billion in online sales and made history with $1.2 billion in sales via mobile devices in a single day. A few days later, Cyber Monday contributed to a mobile shopping milestone, with more than $1.07 billion in mobile sales. In case you missed that, one-third of this year’s holiday shopping happened via mobile, a number that shot up 33% from 2015.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the digital behaviors of shoppers tend to shift dramatically when there’s a deal on the table. Not only are more and more consumers getting comfortable with the idea of completing a purchase from a mobile device, but these shoppers are also 12% more likely to download an app during the holiday season — more than at any other time of the year.

Put the way consumers shop and spend during the holiday season under a microscope, and you’ll uncover a hell of a lot of data that can help guide marketing strategies for the coming year. This data is, quite literally, a gift.


Mobilize Or Die

The statistics from Black Friday and Cyber Monday could not be more clear: mobile shopping will continue to grow in 2017.According to recent research from Forrester, two subgroups are to thank: the oft-discussed Millennial generation and their successor, Gen Z. Forrester dissected these two generations’ shopping habits and showed that when it comes to purchasing products on mobile, 49% of the Millennial generation does so weekly, followed closely by Gen Z at 40%. These numbers indicate that while Millennials are doing the most mobile purchasing, Gen Z is quickly picking up the pace, making an irrefutable case that mobile shopping is not only the present, but the future.

So what does this mean for retailers, specifically? Prepare properly and invest in mobile now, or risk not capitalizing on what will likely be consumers’ preferred way to shop: through mobile apps.

Fill The App Gap

While many brands today have a mobile app, these apps are often created to check a box, with little thought about its value, functionality and user experience. As consumers continue to turn to mobile for their shopping needs, however, a good in-app experience becomes mission-critical.

Hear this: having an app in the iTunes or Google Play store just for the sake of it is no longer an option. Home screen real estate is about as competitive as finding an affordable 2-bedroom in Manhattan, and brand apps must go beyond the basics to capture — and keep — user attention. They must be “authentically mobile.” That is, they must be in-depth, engaging and most of all, valuable to the user. Geolocation, mobile messaging and contextual marketing automation are just three new technologies that enable businesses to expand their means of capturing those mobile-first consumers.

Do not be misled: such valuable apps will require extensive planning and prioritization, because an active user experience versus an idle download will yield polar results. In fact, according to InMarket Research, even though 55% of consumers use a smartphone while shopping in-store, only 8% are actually interacting with the store’s app. This data dictates a clear disconnect between brand and consumer. So how can brands mend this relationship? Adapt, and adapt fast.

Adaptation Without Apprehension

The ability to adapt as consumer habits shift from the norm to the new is the reason “authentically mobile” experiences are so powerful. Mobile apps are playing a key role in enabling data-driven agility, with the ability to capture, process and interpret vast amounts of contextual data from devices to keep audiences engaged. Recently, we’ve seen significant improvements around mobile data collection and application through creative, immersive consumer experiences.

In 2016, platforms like Pokémon Go, Snapchat and Uber offered unforgettable user interactions that combined physical and digital realities using a quick swipe, tilt or shake of the phone. The resulting unprecedented growth spike was due to their unique abilities to adapt to the way users interact with the world around them. If retailers can adopt this methodology, they will encourage shoppers to spend more time in their apps — and thereby gather unparalleled contextual data they can use to target and convert shoppers.

Time in-app isn’t the only way retailers can cull deep mobile data insights. Consumers’ product preferences, previous spending, geolocation and in-app behavior can help brands obtain unique knowledge unavailable to their competitors. Say a shopper left a Bluetooth speaker in their mobile cart. Shooting a push notification with a new arrival update as they approach a nearby brick-and-mortar store can help complete the purchase. This tactic brings value to the shopper by making the path to purchase both convenient and timely.

It’s time to move beyond the mobile basics. As retailers continue digesting the 2016 holiday findings and begin executing on their 2017 plans, it’s pivotal they shift to meet the growing mobile demand. This year, mobile is likely to be the make or break factor for retailers — and for brands that don’t adjust accordingly, long-term success may slip away.

Alan S. Knitowski is the CEO of Phunware. He is a successful serial entrepreneur with multiple exits over a 15-year period to companies including Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), Level 3 Communications (NASDAQ: LVLT) and Internet Security Systems (now NYSE: IBM). He is a 2014 Finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award for Central Texas and has been a Founder, Executive, Angel Investor and Fund Manager throughout his career in the private sector, after serving in the United States Army as an Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger qualified Captain in the Corps of Engineers.

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