Tim Ash on Mobile, Personalization, and Showrooming

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Maxymiser's Digital Bits caught up with SiteTuners CEO Tim Ash to discuss the meaning of personalization to consumers, the impact of the rise of mobile on usability and conversion rate optimization, and the implications to retailers of 'showrooming.'

According to a new IBM study released at the 2014 NRF convention last month, consumers are willing to share details about themselves, particularly if they receive a personalized experience in return. What do you think personalization really means to consumers (not brands)?

Tim Ash: I think most consumers these days view personalization as a convenience and a way to get better pricing. What they are trading off for this is privacy. But most of us (at least in the US) are used to giving up personal information. For example, think about grocery store clubs – we give up our buying habits in exchange for discounts and coupons for things that we buy. The key is to maintain​ a relationship of trust ​ – this usually works better for well-established brands and not no-name small shops​.

This is one of the reasons people still log in to Google despite Microsoft’s “keep calm while we steal your data” campaign, or the Buzz debacle a few years back. It’s just so convenient to sign in once and get access to email, location-accurate search results, YouTube recommendations based on things you like, and a slew of other services.

Our recent research study – Valentine’s Day: Retail’s Love Affair With Digital – found that tablets were primed to surge ahead of smartphones as the preferred mobile device for last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers, at 20 percent for women and 17 percent for men. Does this trend surprise you? If so, what are the implications that retailers should not ignore from this behavior?

Tim Ash: It’s not surprising at all, but it does have a pretty big impact for usability and conversion rate optimization. The thing about tablets is that you do have quite a bit of real estate, and a much more “traditional” experience than you would have on smartphones. If you serve up a mobile version to tablet users, you are basically failing those users, making finding things more difficult than it needs to be.

So whether your response to the multi-device world is to build a mobile version or to use Responsive Web Design, remember to serve up the “full” version of the web site for tablets.

Many brands today are jumping on the mobile bandwagon – launching cool apps or building out responsive design sites. In your opinion, what is an ROI-proof strategy that retailers should adopt instead of putting all their eggs into the “mobile” basket?

Tim Ash: If there’s one thing they need to do, it’s this – follow the math. The first thing they need to do is figure out how many people are using desktops and laptops, tablets, and smartphones on their sites, then look at the failure rates for those things. If a lot of people can’t find what they need on smartphones, it’s time to figure out what the visitor tasks are, to find out why they are failing, and to test things that can fix the user experience. Same thing for tablets, same thing for desktops and laptops.

There are no shortcuts – just trends. The nice thing about trends is that they are driven by math, and math cuts through the generalizations and the nonsense.

Do you think retailers should be threatened by ‘showrooming’, or should it be approached as a golden opportunity?

Tim Ash: It’s a double-edged sword for retailers with both types of presence. The distinct advantage of online-only stores is price because of the lack of overhead compared to brick-and-mortar stores. There’s also the convenience they offer visitors who never have to leave the house.

The advantage of having a brick and mortar presence is the experience – the ability of visitors to touch the aluminum casing or see what a product looks against a desk. There’s also the ability to get the product ​instantly instead of ​in ​days.

​That is why Amazon is trying to deliver products as fast as possible. The recent announcement of unmanned drone delivery is still many years away, but if they can cut that wait time to hold the product in your hand to a half hour (while still providing the best pricing and infinite selection), it will make it much harder for stores to compete.

So the idea is that if you are operating one, the other, or both, you need to mitigate against the other experience. If you’re handling just a physical store, make sure the price makes sense. If you are operating just an online store, make sure you show up on search engines, that your site is usable so your products can be found easily, and your checkout process is dead simple so the visitors who view products on brick-and-mortar stores are likely to transact with you if they want to make their purchase online for pricing reasons.

If you operate both, this can be an opportunity. The idea is to create an experience that continues from one medium to another, and create synergies to improve the brand experience.

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This interview originally appeared on the Maxymiser blog March 11, 2014

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