It wasn’t enough that Kings Seeds was New Zealand’s biggest online seed distributor – the team wanted their customers to feel that they were buying from the best. They also wanted to improve the usability of the company’s website, so that customers would be able to find the right products in the right season.
Kings Seeds turned to website design, e-commerce and online marketing provider Zeald to optimise its website. Email marketing was introduced, abandoned cart recovery was implemented, and the website was given a mobile-optimised design.
What then blossomed was the best June of the company’s sale history, with a 14.5 percent increase in sales.
Says Emily Hall of Zeald: “Because 60 percent of New Zealanders now own a smartphone, it’s no longer a question of ‘Should I do mobile?’ but ‘Why haven’t I got a mobile presence?’”
For today’s shopper, mobile is indeed the retail hub. To them, it’s no longer online or offline shopping, it’s shopping. Would-be buyers have come to expect the omni-channel experience of bricks to clicks to be one and the same – seamless.
Research suggests that two thirds of New Zealand adult internet users research goods and services online before they ever enter your store or shake the hand of one of your sales reps, says Hall. This means it’s critical that your website design reflects the same first impression you have worked so hard to create in the offline world.
“Your website deserves the same attention to detail that you apply to your products instore,” she says.
“The storefront is no longer the only door through which a customer can enter and exit your business – a website needs to be the hub of your digital strategy.”
So, what is the key to a well-working website? The answer is responsive design.
Hall explains: “Responsive design is a technique that is used to build websites so that it changes how it looks in a user-friendly manner, depending on the size of the screen viewing the page. It keeps your content on one single URL, which is easier for you, your users, and Google.”
And keeping it Google-friendly will help get your retail brand noticed.
The search engine announced on its Webmaster Blog earlier this year that, from 21 April 2015, it will be expanding its use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
“This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimised for their devices.”
And yet, there’s a serious lack of mobile-optimised sites. Shoppers are still expected to navigate clunky sites which are ill-fitting to their phone and tablet screens.
“There is currently a bit of a mismatch between where customers want to buy products or find information, and how businesses are making that information available,” says Richard Llewellyn, head of corporate communications at Spark NZ.
“When you consider that a majority of us give up on a mobile purchase if the website isn’t tailored to work on our mobile phones, this is a bit of a problem.”
Half of New Zealanders now regularly buy things on their mobile phones, he says, and that number is growing fast as the majority of Spark NZ’s mobile customers now own a smartphone.
“This presents a massive opportunity for businesses who want a low-cost and effective way to engage with their customers,” says Llewellyn.
In July last year, Spark acquired 40 percent share in Kiwi tech startup Putti. The company offers a simple, step-by-step process for building mobile responsive sites or mobile apps, which can then be used by businesses to sell products, send out special offers or loyalty vouchers, or simply make information (such as product details or store location) easily available to customers no matter where they are.
Aaron McDonald, CEO of Putti, thinks it’s important for businesses to know that if they are not mobile enabled in their digital presence they are absolutely missing out.
“Mobile is where consumers are consuming digital content and they have very high standards on the user experience,” he says.
“If you’re not doing it well, someone else will be and they will win.”
And according to Frank Gilbert, of web design company Solutionists, there are retailers doing it well.
Last year, the average online sales growth for the company’s clients was over 50 percent. More than 60 percent of its clients are in retail, including Barkers, Max Fashions, Walker & Hall, Wallace Cotton and Mi Piaci.
“Our clients are investing in online as fast as they can go because they see that, right now, online development gives them the best return on investment,” says Gilbert.
He says the needs have changed for retailers looking to expand their channels online, with mobile devices such as phones and tablets now accounting for more than 40 percent of all online shopping visits.
“Every retailer now competes globally, whether they want to or not. The level of functionality required must match or exceed that of all of their competitors or customers will stop shopping with them.
“Making online shopping difficult for that percentage of your customers is not a profit-enhancing strategy.”
Many of these recent changes in consumer behaviour is due to New Zealand’s data explosion, with 4G usage alone set to grow by 1,200 per cent in the next three years, according to Ken Tunnicliffe, acting enterprise director at Vodafone NZ.
There are also now more mobile phones in New Zealand than people.
“We expect roughly 90 percent of our customers to have a mobile this year and many of these will be smartphones. More than 44 percent of our customers are now browsing on their mobile; it's become a tool to research, find a store or compare prices,” he says.
Vodafone NZ has recognised the importance of helping businesses to be omni-channel ready by launching its Ready Business programme last year.
The concept of Ready Business is to be an informed partner to Kiwi businesses, helping them to make sense of the big technology trends that are shaping not just our workplaces but also our world. The service has been provided for big names in the marketplace, including ASB, Coca-Cola and Les Mills International.
“Vodafone believes a Ready Business is a ‘borderless business’ – look to Google and Amazon as obvious examples,” says Tunnicliffe.
“New Zealand businesses of all sizes, being fully mobilised and in the cloud, can compete on the world stage.”
Meanwhile overseas, investment by Target (the USA’s fourth largest retailer) in its omni-channel experience has seen many happy returns for the company.
While showrooming and webrooming continues to be a phenomenon of the digital age, Target understood that making the online experience as easy as possible would translate into bricks and mortar sales.
Target.com’s iPhone mobile app changed from a weekly catalogue to a products and promotions portal that encourages future purchases, with trending items and mobile coupons. When shoppers enter the store, the app shows a shopping list feature, which point to the shelf location of each product (when available).
After the launch of the app, the company saw an increase in its digital sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year. Chain Store Age reported it had a 40 percent increase from 2013.
As well as this, mobile traffic made up 60 percent of Target.com’s visits during the holiday period (November through December), and store pickup orders hit a record high on Thanksgiving Day. Target reports that its mobile-engaged customers make four times more visits to the store per year.
“Mobile experience needs to make commerce as easy as possible,” said Jamil Ghani, Target’s VP of enterprise, at a conference earlier this year. “We call it bricks-and-mobile, and we’re really excited to see how far we can take it.”
But can this work for New Zealand’s smaller market?
“Because of lower sales conversion rates on mobile channels, the ROI in sales terms is less clear than desktop e-commerce channels,” says James Kemp of Growth HQ, which builds, designs and optimises digital channels for New Zealand businesses.
“Retailers are understanding that the mobile channel is still growing and there is a subtle shift towards being a shopping companion for consumers as well as a direct e-commerce sales tool.”
Even so, his advice to tentative retailers is, at the bare minimum, to have a mobile specific or responsive website.
“From there you can look at the customer behaviour and prioritise what features and technology to invest in next,” he says.
“You don’t need to rush into building apps or investing in beacons until you learn what customers are really finding useful.”
And perhaps it’s time to stop thinking of your market as only New Zealand, because there are competing retailers overseas who aren’t focused on only their own country.
Global is the new local, says Tunnicliffe.
“A retailer who only caters to the local New Zealand market is now competing for the same share of wallet that similar retailers on the other side of the world are competing for,” he says.
“Distance, in the end, doesn’t mean much anymore. There are massive opportunities out there.”
This story was originally published in NZ Retail magazine issue 737, April/May 2015.