By Aimee Chanthadavong

Retailers are no longer just responsible for selling goods and services; they are also accountants, supply chain managers, marketers and IT experts mainly because mobile technology is now so embedded within the industry it has changed the way they operate.

The latest Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index by Australian Interactive Media Industry Assocation (AIMIA) shows mobile ownership in Australia continues to explode. Eighty-eight per cent of respondents of the survey now own a smartphone compared to 76 per cent of respondents last year and tablet ownership is now at 56 per cent compared to 38 per cent last year.

The survey also showed more than half of the respondents (56 per cent) made a successful purchase on their mobile phone in the last 12 month.
At the same time, almost 30 per cent of respondents admitted they have decreased their in-store purchasing since they started buying on their mobile phones. Over half (56 per cent) of the respondents stated their in-store purchases had stayed the same, while 11 per cent said their in-store purchases had increased.

Frank Farrall, lead partner for Deloitte Digital, which was a major sponsor of the survey, told RetailBiz that based on these results it’s important for retailers to understand this changing behaviour and an omnichannel model is way to go.

“The core retail business for so many years was the same and then all of a sudden retailers were slammed with this new consumer behaviour and that has rapidly changed the core business,” he said.

“So that strategy that has worked for you in the past does not work now and so you have to change.

“The retail business needs to understand what the customer wants and how they behave and not how they want to sell to the customer. It can be as simple as making sure your website is optimised for mobile and that’s not really expensive to do.

“A lot of retail businesses are failing to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and to work out what experience they want.”

Fortunately enough, Farrell said these mobile devices can be used to collect customer data that can help retailers decide how to go about executing their digital strategy.

“You can get a lot of data and understand from your website what people search for, what devices they use, you can see at what time of the day they’re doing it so you can get a very accurate idea of your customers and their behaviour; the data doesn’t lie.

“Then you can do customer research to dig in a little more about what they do. It’s about balancing facts and analytics.”

The survey results also showed just over 60 per cent of respondents reported using a mobile device to compare prices online (64 per cent) and look at product or services reviews (67 per cent) before making a purchasing decision in the last 12 months.

The pressure for local retailers to understand the changing retail landscape is even greater now that Australia is seeing more international retailers enter the space.

“It’s going to put the pressure on local retailers to really rise to the challenge,” Farrell said.

“I think the international retailers are investing here really validates that omnichannel works.  Businesses like Zara and H&M have been able to get the data to prove Aussie customers want their products, so while they are shipping here it would be better for them to just come to Australia.

“Unfortunately it has taken a rude wake up call for local retailers to respond, which they are doing but are still a few years behind and playing catch up.”

As for what’s next? Wearable technology, such as the Nike Fuel Band, Smart Watch and Google Glasses, the survey indicates. While only 5 per cent of respondents stated they currently own one this is predicted to grow to 22 per cent by 2014.

Farrell said these devices could potentially be an interest area for retailers on how they interact with customers.

“Technology is already a fashion item. While it may not have a great impact in the short term, I think the next stage of these wearable devices is how people working in the store will use them.

“For example, if you work at Coles and your job is to fill and pack orders for people who order online, you’ll have one hand free to carry the basket and the other to take the goods of the rack. So if you have a pair of Google Glass you can access the order list, the layout of the store and a map. So I think there are really interesting use cases that will come through.”