Smartphones can support impulsive purchasing – browsing a retailer’s website while waiting in a supermarket queue and clicking 'buy now', for instance.
Meanwhile, the widespread use of tablets as second screens presents the opportunity to make purchases, perhaps in response to advertisements, from the comfort of your sofa.
Digital window-shopping, or showrooming, is common among smartphone users and often leads consumers into physical stores to try on or test products, or to making online purchases from another device at another time.
Recent research by TNS suggests that more than three quarters of consumers have made a purchase online; even more will have at least researched products online.
Where once this would almost certainly have been on a desktop computer, the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets makes mapping the online shopping journey more complex than ever.
Tracking customer interactions across devices is essential as a means of identifying pressure points and devising strategies to counteract them, but many brands are still relying on measurements that are too limiting in the era of the smartphone.
In fact, research by eBay Inc. found that the average consumer will use as many as three to five devices or platforms in the course of making their buying decision and completing a purchase.
This tendency to hop from device to device during the decision-making process greatly increases the risk to retailers that a customer will, intentionally or otherwise, not complete a purchase.
Th research also found that a quarter of online and mobile purchases are made by customers who could not have bought the products locally, with these purchases accounting for €9bn worth of sales in the UK alone in 2012.
A decent mobile experience is vital to prevent purchase abandonment
Customers purchasing high-value items are also more likely to shop across various devices, with 63% doing so when buying products for €100 or more.
The key question for brands is, then, how to stop customers dropping out of the purchasing process as they move from one device to another.
Failure to do so could prove costly in terms of missed sales of big-ticket items.
Reasons for switching devices might include a complicated, unreliable, or unsatisfying user experience on the mobile device – perhaps because the website is not optimised for viewing on the smaller screen size.
Many consumers may hold off from making purchases on a mobile device because of concerns about the reliability of their internet connection and the associated risks of not completing the transaction or being charged multiple times.
It may, of course, simply be that they were only browsing, and will make a final purchasing decision later.
A key reason for consumers dropping out of the purchasing process altogether when switching devices – aside from the obvious possibility that they just haven’t found what they are looking for – is the lack of a powerful enough prompt or trigger when they pick up another device.
If the change in device is not immediate, it is easy to forget about the item you were looking at.
Mapping the full customer journey
If digital marketers are to maintain customer engagement across different devices, they need to build a holistic view of the customer journey. This is essential to enable them to identify and address any particularly problematic transitions.
Are more consumers lost, for instance, when switching from smartphone to PC, or vice versa?
Accurate attribution of customer engagement – including the ability to track interactions by the same customer across a variety of devices – is vital.
Attribution data can provide brands with deeper insights into cross-device purchasing paths and the effectiveness of activity at each customer touchpoint.
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'Last click' – the traditional measure of marketing channel performance and customer engagement – is outdated and flawed, providing only a snapshot of the final step on the customer’s journey.
This is of limited use given the device diversity now in play.
Advanced attribution, on the other hand, enables marketers to take a comprehensive and granular view of the conversion process.
Aggregating and analysing data on a consumer’s interactions across various channels not only improves understanding of the role that each channel plays in influencing their decision, but also provides valuable information as to the relative impact and ROI of specific channels.
Building better customer profiles
This data can be used to minimise device drop as part of a multi-layered approach to linking customer behaviours and building profiles across devices.
Customer keys, profile IDs, and probabilistic 'non-cookie' techniques can be used to map users to devices and sessions.
Pattern analysis then enables marketers to detect potential 'hot spots' for losing customers. By tracking what devices people are using when, and how they switch between them, it becomes easier to target the kind of prompts – promotional emails, for example – that help customers complete purchases.
These insights can also make marketing campaigns more effective and cost-efficient.
Armed with accurate, real-time information about how customers interact with them across their various channels, brands can target digital marketing campaigns at the relevant devices and platforms, as well as allocating budget more effectively.
The data can also be used to generate forecasts against which actual activity can be measured to dynamically adjust budget and campaign targeting.
Smartphone and tablet penetration among consumers continues at a prodigious rate – technology industry analysis firm Gartner predicts that there will be 7.3bn PCs and connected mobile devices by 2020.