It’s 2017 and mobile is mainstream. Last year, 59% of German customers shopped using their mobile device. The whole consumer experience has changed dramatically over the last decade. Where ten years ago, shoppers researched products online before purchasing in-store, these days consumers prefer a more holistic experience; one where researching, comparing, and buying are not fragmented pieces, but one convenient whole.
When I first started at Zalando in 2014, our mobile app was mainly an engagement tool people used to browse. Even as recently as three years ago, we didn’t believe people would shop mainly on mobile. Our app played a supporting role with little to no unique mobile content.
Several months later, the number of people shopping by mobile began to increase drastically. A transformation was happening in consumer culture. Devices were growing better and faster, while social media ushered in a new mode of fashion inspiration. Content creators on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube became just as important as fashion magazines. People were plugged into fashion 24/7, and therefore retailers had to be too.
We realised we had to change how we looked at our service. The shift from desktop to mobile was happening much faster than that from offline to online shopping. We had to transform our approach rapidly. ‘Mobile first’ became our objective.
Becoming Mobile First
To embrace the changing culture of the mobile consumer, we revised how we ourselves at Zalando understood mobile.
We created strategic workstreams with various Zalando teams, implementing the m-bassador programme where teams sent a ‘mobile ambassador’ to disruption workshops and training sessions. Testing stations were distributed throughout our offices where staff could interact with devices showcasing new ways to engage and retain mobile customers. In Autumn 2015, we held a #MobileFirst day with speakers from Uber, Facebook, Google, and others. We wanted to create a buzz to inspire and enable staff to go back to their teams and change their daily work, putting mobile first.
We learned mobile users mustn’t feel as though they’re using an adaptation of the desktop screen, but a separate, sophisticated application which caters to their needs and preferences. For example, we built scrollable lookbooks and created videos which are only available on mobile. We did a complete overhaul of the home screen and dramatically changed our PDP. We rethought the entire mobile customer experience, adapting browse and shop functionalities. Discovery was made possible on mobile where it wasn’t previously a feature.
Companies who are slow to offer their customers the whole journey, from the initial contact to aftercare, are at risk of being left behind. It’s clear we must minimise the reasons why customers go back to desktop shopping. Honing the client journey is an ongoing process: integrating online returns, speeding things up, offering more convenient service, introducing innovative payment functionalities, etc. If shoppers want a comprehensive experience from start to finish, we need to support them.
That mobile sales now outstrip desktop sales in Zalando speaks to the success of ‘mobile first’ thinking, and just how beneficial it is to work with both tech and commercial teams. Discovering the true mobile experience: flexibility, speed, touch, and play, is challenging but vital if we want to keep up with consumer needs.
There’s lots to look forward to. Big Data is intriguing. The opportunities it offers retailers are incredible. Zalando’s aim is to be the number one destination for fashion, and to do this we need to continue to personalise our customer experience. Big Data will allow us to do that. Recommending big labels isn’t rocket science, but understanding customers and offering new brands that are truly related is really special. People get amped up about personalized music or movie recommendations. They feel that certain platforms get them. There’s a feeling, for example, that Spotify’s algorithms are totally in tune with the customer, and able to anticipate their wants, from the biggest bands down to undiscovered artists. Similarly, Netflix is lauded for its sophisticated recommendations that keep viewers tuned-in. If we can emulate this anticipation and customer knowledge with fashion, we’re on the right track.
Yes, mobile is a remote device, but it’s bringing us closer to our customers, and that’s where we want to be.