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The State of Retail 2017: A Big Year for Mobile Wins

It’s safe to say that mobile technology dominated 2016. From the constant emergence of new shopping apps—both third-party and branded ones—to a plethora of new service apps—ranging from ride-sharing to reservation-making—mobile devices continued showcasing their ability to effectively bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

As 2016 comes to a close, marketers are reevaluating their previously used revenue-generating strategies and developing new goals for the year ahead. While 2017 will undoubtedly bring about an onslaught of new mobile-stemming retail gems, much can be learned from examining 2016’s biggest mobile wins, identifying their success factors, and leveraging them in the New Year.

Social media: Social media was one of the biggest gold mines for retailers this year, especially as mobile applications such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook upped their sponsored ad offerings and audience-targeting tools. Whereas branded accounts on these three social networks were nice-to-have’s several years ago, they expanded into must-have marketing tools for every retailer. Instant shop-now buttons appearing below new ads? Instagram has an offering for that. Location-based technology that lets a brand target potential customers within a strict geographic region? Facebook has that in stock.

In 2016, retailers also relied on social media to promote their sales days more heavily than ever before. While sending out Sunday circulars with weekly deals was once a fruitful way to generate consumer interest, more brands are letting their loyal Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat followers in on sales sneak peeks ahead of the general public. For instance, brands including Victoria’s Secret and J. Crew posted alerts on their Instagram Stories—a new feature this year—and invited their followers to be the first to shop their sales, creating an invaluable aura of exclusivity for these fans while simultaneously rewarding them.

The 2017 outlook: Look out for more social media-only giveaways, sales announcements, and new product launches in the New Year. More brands may choose to monetize their millennial audiences this way—a la eyewear manufacturer Warby Parker, which sold out a new pair of glasses by selling them exclusively on Snapchat.

Chatbots and AI: In 2016, the retail world also became more heavily intertwined with artificial intelligence—particularly where advertising was concerned. It became commonplace for major chains such as Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Sephora to roll out chatbots on Facebook Messenger, enabling the social network’s users to ask product questions and receive personalized recommendations. Starbucks even went so far as to create a chatbot for its fall staple drink, the pumpkin spice latte, adding a fun layer of personification to the experience.

Meanwhile, several brands, including Campbell’s Soup, ventured into leveraging AI-based ad units. These units can pinpoint a user’s exact location and serve him or her relevant advertisements. For instance, an apparel marketer can target a consumer in a snowy locale with an ad for winter accessories, all the while targeting an individual in a warmer climate with ads for new sundresses.

The 2017 outlook: These types of ad units and personalized chatbot experiences are likely to proliferate in the retail industry come 2017. Although large-scale retail chains may have already experimented with these strategies, more mid-size marketers could join the fray in the months ahead, if they delegate their mobile marketing budgets appropriately.

Ultimately, the State of Retail in 2017 is bound to build upon the previous year’s biggest mobile and technological wins, as well as employ some of the latest forward-facing technologies permeating the digital space. One thing is for certain, however—retailers that do not use mobile to the best of their abilities will get lost in the shuffle among their tech-savvy competitors. Retail has evolved to the point where, in order to maximize the number of site and in-store visits, shopping cart checkouts, and online conversions, mobile tools must be evident at every touchpoint throughout the shopper journey.

The future of retail is mobile. Download the Mobile Retail Report and see if brands are shifting to meet the needs of a mobile-first world.

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Alex Samuely, Contributor

Alex is a marketing and communications professional with extensive experience in analyzing digital and mobile marketing trends. She has also covered brand-oriented mobile strategies spanning the retail, travel, financial services, and food and beverage industries.

Topics: Retail

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