Could this be the first Christmas retailers finally connect online and offline worlds?

According to App Annie, retail app downloads are at an all-time high, but turning that positivity into sales instore has, since the dawn of mobile, been something that has eluded store owners. Perhaps it’s time to tap goodwill of another kind? Paul Barnes, Territory Director Northern Europe and the Middle East, at App Annie explains.

A modern Christmas carol

The lament of the falling footfall on high streets up and down the land is so familiar that it could almost be a modern Christmas carol. But could 2018 be the year that retailers finally make the rise of mobile shopping connect with the in-store experience? The signs are good. After all, the groundwork has been done. The first half of 2018 saw the greatest number of shopping app downloads ever, with a staggering two billion plus across iOS and Google Play combined.

It’s now a case of monetising those users and translating downloads into in-store footfall. Retailers are already showing signs of impressive agility across marketing channels but which are the brands that are leading the way?

The first half of 2018 saw the greatest number of shopping app downloads ever, with a staggering two billion plus across iOS and Google Play combined.

Banking on behavioural change

While the real driver is sales, certain brands are banking on festive goodwill to act as the tipping point of behavioural change. The most obvious of these is Iceland, which saw its banned ad rightly bringing about a public discussion about the ethics of palm oil.

Whilst it was unlikely to have been the original goal, having the ad banned catapulted the campaign away from terrestrial TV and directly onto the phones of Christmas shoppers. Instead of Iceland spending thousands on landing an ad to dwindling viewing numbers (a 30 second slot during a peak time ITV show costs an estimated £30,000), the supermarket’s creativeness won it a spot on social media and a host of online news outlets – not to mention free broadcast PR.

While there are continued debates about whether John Lewis’ advert telling the story of Elton John’s first piano or Sainsbury’s cute and cuddly ‘Big Night’ is this year’s best, my vote goes to Visa. For me, the financial services behemoth is setting new standards in retail this year with its Christmas advert that could prove to have the most lasting impact for the retail industry.

Set to the familiar strains of ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ and featuring shopkeepers from across the UK, the timing of Visa’s #KeepItLocalThisChristmas campaign extolling the virtues of the high street is purposeful.

As Adrian Farina, Visa’s senior vice-president for marketing explains: “Visa wants to make you think a little bit about where you shop. The high street is going through a challenging time and we can do a little bit to help, trigger a different discussion, and raise awareness.”

Connecting worlds

It is telling that Visa’s campaign doesn’t focus on the what, but the where. In all areas of retail this is a theme that I predict will continue into 2019. The popularity of technologies such as digital streaming has led to a real societal shift towards a ‘want it now’ culture. Until drones start bringing our physical purchases instantly to us – and I’m not sure they ever will – the easiest way for retailers to satisfy this customer demand is to better sync up its mobile apps and physical stores.

It is ironic that in these connected times it has taken so long for the retail industry to truly connect their online and offline operations. For years, the industry focused on competing for digital dollars at the expense of the high street. Now, however, savvy retailers are realising that technology – especially mobile – can, in fact, connect the two retail worlds to the benefit of consumers.

Mobile moves minds

Now, more than ever before, brands need to integrate their corporate focus with the public zeitgeist. One wrong move today and a brand can be dismantled in a click of a finger on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. However, as has been shown by both Iceland and Visa this festive season, mobile can also move minds for the better and tapping into the right social responsibility can change attitudes positively towards a brand too.

Now, more than ever before, brands need to integrate their corporate focus with the public zeitgeist.

Today, over two billion people use at least one of the top five social apps (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp) each month on average. Between H1 2015 and H1 2017, worldwide time spent in the Video Players and Editors and Entertainment categories on Android phones grew over 150% to reach close to 80 billion hours.

This shows how entrenched consumers are in the cultural topics of the day as they scan for video content, another reason brands need to be conscientious of how their brand messages on mobile reflect the wider public consciousness. From a brand perspective, creative messaging needs to align across all channels. There’s an increased appetite to share a brand’s message if it reinforces their own beliefs. The retailers that understand this will be the ones to thrive, not just over the Christmas period but into 2019 too.

Paul Barnes, Territory Director N. Europe and Middle East, App Annie


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