Opinions: 

Travel Tech

A recent Barclays report provides valuable insight into how companies can make the most of the burgeoning smartphone market. You would have to have been living under a rock not to realise that the smartphone niche is an extremely profitable one, but the extent of this is perhaps not always acknowledged. Over 60 percent of UK residents owned a smartphone in 2014, and by the end of the decade this is expected to exceed three-quarters of the population.

The Fertile Smartphone Marketplace

And a large percentage of this potentially fertile marketplace is the utilisation of mobile in order to purchase goods and services. Experts project that 28.6 percent of UK online sales will be generated through mobile devices in 2015, and this figure is expected to expand still further in the future.

Data released by Barclays also indicates that during 2014 in the United Kingdom, mobile commerce, often dubbed m-commerce, accounted for around 3 percent of total UK retail sales by value. If this sounds like a relatively paltry figure, it is worth bearing in mind that this figure is expected to increase threefold by the end of the decade, to be worth in excess of £35 billion. This far exceeds the 44.5 percent increase that is currently forecast for overall online sales, and leaves the 8 percent growth rate for total retail sales well and truly in the dust.

Richard Lowe, Head of Retail and Wholesale at Barclays, concluded that no aspect of the retail market is immune from this trend. But it is important to understand that the travel industry may be particularly vulnerable to the development of mobile, as travellers have continually emphasised the importance of mobile platforms in the overall travel experience.

Mobile Demographics Key

Despite the fact that mobile is utilised across pretty much all demographics, there is no doubt that age plays a major role in the state of m-commerce. Over 77 percent of consumers aged between 25 and 34 engaged in shopping on a mobile device at some point last year. This was nearly double the proportion of the 65 or older age group.

These figures indicate that although engaging with retailers across mobile channels is important, there is still a significant proportion of the consumer audience that needs to be targeted by traditional methods of retail and e-retail. Although one would expect the key millennial demographic to be completely on-board with mobile, this is in fact not the case, and one-in-four of this particular demographic are making regular mobile purchases.

Barriers to Mobile

This leads to an obvious question. What is preventing so many consumers from switching to mobile platforms? Well, the Barclays report indicates that there is a rather obvious reluctance along a certain segment of consumers. 22.3 percent of those responding to this survey indicated that security is a major concern with mobile platforms. This is something that can surely be addressed by companies utilising mobile platforms, with the ability to both educate and reassure consumers a key strategy.

Additionally, consumers stated in vast numbers that the absence of a face-to-face relationship with another human-being was a barrier to purchasing via mobile. This is a difficult problem to overcome, of course, as there is simply no way off easily replicating this experience with smartphones and tablets. Older consumers in particular expressed a preference for human contact while shopping, which does suggest that this is a problem which will diminish in significance over time.

But there are other barriers that companies can address more easily. Ease of shopping was another aspect of mobile commerce that was particularly exciting as an issue in the survey. One in six of the non-participants in mobile shopping considered the process to be too fiddly, while just over 50 percent indicated that mobiles would not allow products to be viewed easily and clearly enough. Finally, just over 11 percent of respondents opined that the length of time required to engage in mobile shopping is excessive.

Addressing the Complaints

Although it is clear that consumers are experiencing issues with mobile shopping, at least the opinions which are being expressed can be reasonably addressed. The feedback indicates that there is significant value in appropriately optimising websites for mobile in order to improve clarity and ease of navigation, and to deliver a checkout process that is as quick, simple and secure as possible. One would hope that the majority of companies are already committed to these processes, but what the Barclay's report indicates is that paying particular attention to these issues can deliver qualitative and quantitative improvements in attracting customers.

It is also clear from the Barclays report that offering e-commerce platforms such as mobile websites or applications provides companies a clear commercial edge over competitors. During the process of compiling this report, Barclays spoke to a number of companies, and found that 70 percent of them didn't offer their customers a dedicated mobile platform.

Although it was acknowledged by 63 percent of those businesses that offering mobile features and facilities can play a significant role in maintaining market share, only ten percent were actually planning to invest significantly in mobile content in foreseeable future. This clearly indicates that there is a window of opportunity in this niche, and a chasm between the importance of mobile and the regard and investment dedicated to it.

Attracting Mobile Market Share

So if companies do wish to invest in m-commerce, what can be put in place to ensure that they attract a significant percentage of the market? One possibility is to ensure that in-store experiences are integrated with the mobile platform. This is still surprisingly unexplored in the commercial sector, and can provide a lot of advantages for a company. Of course, this idea will not apply to all companies in the travel industry, but those that still have a physical base on the high street can look to meld this with their mobile platform.

Central to this process can be taking advantage of technology such as QR codes, mobile devices for in-store use, and personalised offers sent to consumers in-store. For the last of these, it may be possible in the very near future to take advantage of iBeacon technology, which is being widely tested at the moment.

Speaking to customers on a personal level is also advisable. Communicating with customers as individuals rather than faceless consumers can really reap reward. Barclays suggests that utilising Big Data in this process can be particularly useful, with the technology able to generate consumer insights that provide companies with real commercial advantages.

Multi-screening is another aspect of technology that travel-related companies should be implementing. It is absolutely vital to capture consumers at every stage of their retail journey by having a significant presence on every device utilised.

Using absorbing video and photographic content is always a positive way to attract attention. Giving significant consideration to how to engage customers via video, without providing a superior shopping experience or attracting people to the website in the first place, should be considered a heresy. It is always vital to always measure marketing effectiveness. Including a clear call to action in mobile marketing enables you to track how effective your mobile marketing is.

Travel retailers can help attract consumers by providing free in-store Wi-Fi. This can be an excellent way to increase footfall, and is increasingly a basic service which consumers expect from a business.

What this Barclays report indicates, and some of the advice contained within it suggests, is that investing in mobile should be viewed as an important part of future strategy for any business. The cost of setting up mobile and e-commerce sites is declining, so there is no better time to invest than the present.

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