Avoid becoming Toys R Us: Make mobile-first discovery the retail experience

Avoid becoming Toys R Us: Make mobile-first discovery the retail experience

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By Andrew Blachman, COO, Tophatter

Retailers have all heard the news by now: After six decades in business, Toys R Us closed all 800 of its stores in the United States.

There are, of course, multiple factors when a business fails, and it's all too simplistic to point to a single point of failure. Nevertheless, Toys R Us' infamous decision to outsource online sales to a startup called Amazon in 2000 foreshadowed its demise less than two decades later. It provides a cautionary tale for retailers today wrestling with shifting consumer behaviors.

Perhaps most interesting, the Toys R Us–Amazon partnership of the dot com era was met with cheers by the toy retailer's Wall Street investors at the time, as the company became Amazon's exclusive category seller without suffering through the losses necessary to build its own online business. This short-term gain, however, put Toys R Us at a massive long-term disadvantage when it came to understanding and building its own online presence.

Retailers today face a similar dilemma when deciding how much to invest in mobile experiences that could potentially generate online demand, not just harvest it. Every retailer has a search strategy that optimizes for Google, an email strategy to drive retention, and a presence on social media to spur referrals and brand affinity.

Yet most of these investments are aimed at finding online consumers when they are in the purchase decision, not necessarily introducing them to products and services they hadn't ever considered before. Mobile adoption creates a unique opportunity for retailers to move beyond a search-driven world into a push-based environment where consumers want to be inspired. Those retailers that avoid investing in completely reimagined mobile shopping experiences risk the same fate as Toys R Us a decade from now.

Reimagining the nobile shopping experience

Dozens of brands have built themselves on the concept of discovery shopping: TJX, Ross, QVC, and even dollar stores. The TJX store, Homesense, even has the slogan, "Home of your next discovery." These businesses cater to an aspect of retail that customers genuinely enjoy — the surprise and delight of finding a deal or discovering something new.

As we shift from malls to mobile, the way we engage in the consumer experience must shift, too, which is why adapting to the idea of discovery shopping is so important. While brands like TJX and Ross are performing well today on Wall Street, their websites, let alone any mobile presence, are a complete afterthought. Like Toys R Us in 2000, they are reluctant to invest in mobile without clear short-term financial payback. This is a huge mistake.

A good mobile platform should capture the experience of traditional discovery shopping, but be purpose-built for the mobile shopping experience. Building a bare-bones app (i.e., leaving out those entertaining, treasure hunt-feeling elements) simply isn't going to cut it.

To build a successful platform for discovery shopping, it's critical to do the following:

1. Make it mobile first
This is table stakes in today's world, but some companies are still putting more energy into their desktop experiences, which won't pay off in the end. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, half of adults in the United States are making online purchases through their phones, and that number will only continue to rise. If you're not adopting a mobile-first mindset, you're not aligning with the majority of consumers.

2. Remember: It's all about that aha! moment
The core aspect of discovery shopping is right in the name: “discovery.” It's shopping in the form of a treasure hunt. Shoppers don't know what the treasure will be, but they're hoping to find something exciting. The aha! moment that occurs when consumers discover a product they want must be celebrated and capitalized on. There's a wealth of opportunity in making e-commerce fun.

3. Leverage your data
Mobile sessions can generate more data than retailers can capture on the web — everything from the touch interface and location sharing to the personal nature of mobile presents retailers with opportunities to learn what consumers want and when and where they want it. The best experiences leverage this data to get better and better over time.

Shopping is not just a need-based activity — often, it's about the thrill of browsing and buying. People love to spend time shopping, and this simple pastime is a great way to unwind. If retailers evolve with shoppers and build digital shopping experiences where people want to spend their time, they won't have to worry about ending up like our ill-fated giraffe friend.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Mobile Retail, Omnichannel / Multichannel

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