Pexels / Pixabay

In November of 1939, American merchants were coming off a decade of depression and hurting badly. Luckily, President Roosevelt had a quirky solution. With little pomp and circumstance, FDR simply moved Thanksgiving up a week to create another major occasion for Americans to rush to stores. Black Friday as we know it was born.

History purists, calendar makers and football coaches (who feared smaller crowds) were furious, with one Republican Rival declaring that FDR had acted “with the omnipotence of Hitler.” Shopping took on American tradition and football and triumphed over both.

Since FDR indoctrinated shopping as the Great American pastime, retail has been built around the grand spectacle. Retail marketing is essentially a calendar of big events, none bigger than Black Friday.

Think about it- there isn’t a single holiday left that hasn’t been turned into a sale. Don’t forget kids, Abraham Lincoln fought to preserve the union so you could get 40% off a pair of khakis.

However, many large retailers are keeping their doors closed on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. The Mall of America- the great cathedral of consumerism- is telling folks to stay home and have a fifth spiked cider. Black Friday is seeing its influence slowly wane.

Everything from the wholesale decline of American consumerism to millennials eschewing goods in favor of experiences has been cited as the explanation. While the latter is certainly playing a role, shopping as a whole isn’t under existential attack. Technology is just transforming yet another industry.

Long teased, the smartphone is finally changing the fundamental process of how we shop. Transactions are moving from big showstopper sales to micro-moments of truth. The mobile web is, quite literally, forcing retailers to think small.

For all the holiday hubbub, over 80% of sales are made outside the holiday season. While Online eCommerce sales hit almost $4.5 billion on Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2015, a whopping $341.7 billion was spent online last year according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

By and large, retailers’ success hinges on the mundane, everyday shopping moments. The rise of mobile is accelerating this trend. Money is being made and lost on the following “micro-moment” scenarios:

  • Is your mobile checkout process streamlined enough for a user to buy her JCrew sweater before losing signal as her PATH train barrels into the tunnel?
  • Can your mobile website identify a suave but price-sensitive grad student and serve him a 20% coupon to convince him to buy?
  • Does your mobile website automatically use contextual data to serve a user who has bought gloves with a popular new beanie during the New Hampshire winter?

Mobile accounts for 60% of online retail traffic but only 16% of sales. Furthermore, cart abandonments on mobile phones hover around 80%, far above those on desktop.

Across devices, approximately $4 trillion worth of merchandise was abandoned in online shopping carts last year, with about 63% deemed “potentially recoverable” according to BI Intelligence estimates. As mobile gobbles up an increasing share of online traffic, convincing passive surfers to complete purchases will be a core opportunity for retail marketers well beyond this holiday season.

Unless retailers solve the mobile conversion gap, 2017 shoppers will effectively grab a shopping cart, stuff it to the brim with clothes and accessories, then get hit upside the head by flying candy and walk out of the store.

So what’s to be done? Success in mobile rests on creating personalized experiences that leverage all available data to make the purchase process as painless and enjoyable as possible.

Create consistency across platforms-

    40% of users researching on smartphones will go on to complete a purchase on desktop and a great deal more will consult their phones before making an in-store purchase. If a user demonstrates repeated engagement or interest in a certain product set on mobile, show relevant category banners when re-entering the site from desktop.

Bring mobile shoppers back to context-

    Since coming to your website, a user has gone to an oboe recital, taken the dog to the vet and had an out of body experience while watching Westworld. To expedite the purchase process, begin mobile sessions by displaying recently viewed items or products a user might be interested in based on location and history. A quick reminder of why they were on your website can ensure users jump right back to the decision stage of the funnel and quickly purchase what they were looking for.

Design mobile-first-

    Far too many mobile websites are simply desktop experiences transplanted onto a smaller screen. While desktop and to a lesser extent apps have justified lion’s share of attention to date, 2017 needs to be mobile-first. If a user has to scroll several times for information that is readily available on desktop, the layout isn’t native enough.

Encourage spontaneity-

    88% of people agree that having a mobile device with realtime information makes them more spontaneous with shopping and more open to discovering new things. As Tinder brought spontaneity to the dating world, implementing a similar scroll interface can make users fall for certain products on a whim.

Minimize checkout burdens-

    Disruptions in experience from cart to checkout are a massive missed opportunity across all devices but particularly backbreaking on mobile. If a customer has to sign-in, re-enter already provided info or feels insecure about the checkout process, all other mobile optimizations will be for naught.

The majority of eCommerce business are struggling to optimize their mobile web offerings and failing to secure conversions from mobile shoppers. But with mobile expected to drive $169 billion in eCommerce revenue in 2017, the mobile opportunity will continue to grow long after the last holiday fruitcake has spoiled in the fridge.

Capitalizing on this opportunity will require retail marketers to focus largely on the tiny intricacies of the mobile medium. To keep up with changing technologies, an industry long accustomed to thinking big will have to start thinking small.