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Mobile will be more disruptive for retail than online, says Facebook representative

Facebook’s retail industry head says mobile technology is likely to cause a bigger shift in retail than online shopping did

What mobile is doing to retail is a “bigger shift” than online shopping’s impact on the retail sector, according to Facebook’s head of retail industry, Beth Horn.

Speaking at Retail Week’s Tech event, Horn said the “information revolution” driven by mobile devices is changing customer behaviour in such a way that retailers not only have to consider the business impact when making digital changes, but the effect it will have on customer experience.

“Change is being driven by technology, and at the heart of that is mobile. These companies [successful retailers] lean into change, they get comfortable from being uncomfortable,” she said.

“It’s not just survival of the fittest. it’s survival of the smartest. There’s no better time to be in retail than right now.”

Horn said that while she was giving her presentation, she was further away from her phone than she had been all week, and this isn’t an uncommon occurrence for people in the modern world.

“Picture what you see when you walk through a store – two-thirds of people with their heads down looking at their phones,” she said.

But with the advent of this shift, customers are becoming more fickle, often using their phones in stores to compare prices with other retailers, so ensuring any changes match customer needs is vital in encouraging loyalty.  

“We can’t just think about what change means for our own businesses, we have to think about what that means for the customer as well,” she added.

Because people are able to access retailers at any time using mobile devices, Horn believes people’s mindsets have moved away from “I’m going shopping” to “I’m always shopping”, which means helping customers to “discover” items they may want to buy based on past customer data is a better way to engage with them.

Using herself as an example, Horn said an online site suggested she might like to buy a disco gnome.

“How could I possibly think to search for this? I had to discover it. I wasn’t looking for him, but there he was and now he’s in my home.”

Horn said this is an example of “passive shopping”, which is the direction personalised discovery and suggestion is pushing customers in – or, as she described, “when products find people”.

This type of shopper is easier to engage through social media platforms where they will be more responsive to discovery, such as Instagram, and it is simpler to catch their attention through video and visual cues.

It has also been found that for the younger generation of shopper, not only does social media have a huge impact on what they choose to buy, but it is another channel that customers choose to buy through.

Horn said around 400 million people use Instagram stories every day, 80% of Instagram users follow businesses and 70% of customers have taken action after seeing a post.

By engaging people on a topic they care about, they can be encouraged to buy products related to that interest, Horn said, which is easier to achieve through use of social platforms. “Following passions leads to exploration and exploration leads to discovery,” she added.

Horn is not the only retail expert to emphasise the importance of social media in retail. Earlier in the year, a panel of experts told the Salesforce World Tour event in London that social media is one of the most powerful tools retailers have at their disposal in the modern age.

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