FOCUS: Smartphones ownership is booming, with increasing numbers of bicycles being bought through them

The rise of smartphones in bicycle retail

When smartphones first emerged on the market they appeared to be exactly the kind of device gadget freaks would snap up, use and discard when something better came along.

Not only has that prediction proved wrong, but smartphone ownership has actually been a runaway success and far from transitory, particularly on these shores.

Recent figures indicate that almost half of UK adults (44.8 per cent) now own a smartphone.

According to Kantar Worldpanel Comtech, Great Britain is leading the way in smartphone adoption. 67 per cent of phones sold in the 12 weeks ending July 10th 2011 were smartphones.

This adoption is not just down to UK consumers’ insatiable appetite for phones that connect them to the internet, emails, GPS, Facebook and the rest. It’s also down to a quirk of the UK market, as Kantar Worldpanel Comtech’s global consumer insight director Dominic Sunnebo explained: “The two countries which sell the most smartphones [GB and Australia] are also the same two where the highest proportion of smartphones are given free to consumers signing up to contract tariffs…Consumers find it very compelling to be offered a free smartphone with little or no increase in tariff.”

Irrespective of the reasons behind the surge in smartphone ownership in the UK, the fact remains that savvy consumers on these shores have technology to hand that they’re not afraid to use.

Mobile cycle sales
What has all of this got to do with retailing, you might ask. Aside from the fact that around half of your customers have almost certainly got one, the surge in smartphone ownership has opened a new retail channel up to consumers.

Figures from the end of November 2011 threw light on a sizable shift in the way consumers bought goods. According to statistics from the APiServer Study, 67 per cent of consumers have used an ‘app’, or software, on a mobile device in the last twelve months. More pertinently, 33 per cent have made a purchase using a website on a mobile device, while 26 per cent have done so using an app, the survey said.

The same research revealed that 43 per cent use the mobile web to find information about organisations and brands while on the move, too.

If you’re still sceptical about smartphones and retail, you may wish to avert your eyes.

Savvy heavyweight cycle retailers Halfords and Wiggle have both got dedicated mobile versions of their site (among others), geared specifically to be used on smartphones. By November 2011, 12 per cent of Wiggle’s customers were using the retailer’s mobile site to shop. In that month Wiggle ecommerce head Steve Mills said: “We are selling up to 50 bikes a week on mobile devices, including a £4,800 Felt AR1 recently.

“The mobile site was developed in-house and is unlike the standard off-the-shelf platforms used by most large retailers. Users of our desktop site will be pleased to hear that 95 per cent of the functionality is available on our mobile version. We’re extremely proud of it.”

Halfords’ mobile site launched in August 2010 and was made transactional by December of that year. What prompted them to move so quickly in this area? Research, suggesting that 13 per cent of e-commerce transactions will come from mobile in 2013, rising to over 50 per cent in 2014. Statistics that are going to be hard to swallow for sceptics.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that in Q3 2011, mobile accounted for ten per cent of retail searches. BRC director general Stephen Robertson commented: “Online retailing is still expanding quickly compared with selling through stores and searching from mobile devices is showing the most dramatic increase.”

All of which will probably be of concern, especially while some bike retailers have yet to step into the online retail world, let alone mobile online retail.

But it’s also an exciting opportunity and, ultimately, another method to make sales for the nation’s retailers.

While 44.8 per cent of the population now owns a smartphone there is still plenty of adults without one. How long for? That’s up for debate (though would you bet against the ownership figure rising?). How retailers step up to the challenge of mobile retail also remains to be seen. Statistics indicate that for many consumers mobile retail can be fiddly and unsatisfactory, but as retailers tweak their offerings, the customer experience will surely improve. Mobile online retail won’t be for every shop out there, for sure, but for those who are keeping up with the big boys and girls, a mobile-centric retail portal is looking more and more like an essential.

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