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Retailers retreat from mobile marketing as flash sales interest wanes: BDO

retail

Retailers struggle with mobile

With only 38 percent of retailers investing in mobile marketing this year - down from 50 percent last year - a new report from BDO USA suggests that momentum is dying down for the medium as marketers find that they cannot prove mobile's ROI.

BDO’s “Retail Compass Survey of CMOs” report asked 100 retail CMOs about their marketing plans for this year compared to 2012. Despite mobile’s influence in a multichannel marketing mix, the report implies that mobile is still in the early days of proving its worth for retailers.

“Overall, retailers have focused heavily on developing superior in-store offerings and customer service this year,” said Natalie Kotlyar, partner in the retail and consumer products practice at BDO, Chicago.

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“Mobile offerings are undoubtedly important for driving sales, especially in the high-volume holiday season, but the returns are not as readily visible for mobile as they are for traditional brick-and-mortar investments,” she said. “Retailers are very much still testing the waters in this regard, since best practices still aren’t well-established.”

Plateau growth
According to BDO’s report, 72 percent of CMOs surveyed plan to spend the same amount on marketing this year that they did last year. Twenty percent plan to bump up marketing spend and 8 percent plan to dial down their marketing spend.

gilt

Gilt on mobile

Although there are fewer marketers leveraging mobile, the ones that are pushing the medium are pouring more money into marketing.

Mobile represents 15 percent of marketing spend for retailers this year, which is an increase from 5.9 percent last year.

When it comes to tactics, marketers are moving away from some of the newer channels, such as flash sales, for tried-and-true channels including SMS that are already commonly used.

best buy

Best Buy relies on SMS

Twenty-five percent of retailers plan to use flash sales this year, which is down from 42 percent last year. 

Flash sales were the top mobile tactic for 30 percent of retailers a year ago. This year it was voted the top tactic by 5 percent of retailers.

As retailers struggle to find fresh, new deals, flash deals are undoubtedly losing some of their momentum.

Instead of flash sales, retailers are more interested in mobile coupons and SMS campaigns this year.

Thirty-three percent of CMOs plan to focus on SMS campaigns, and 28 percent plan to incorporate mobile coupons.

Despite the digital growth, retailers remain fixed on traditional mediums to spend their marketing dollars.

Forty-one percent of CMOs surveyed plan to invest most heavily in print this year, and 29 percent plan to pour the majority of marketing spend into television.

The heavy traditional media investments are not surprising given print and TV's reach. However, simply banking on a TV or print ad to propel a campaign forward is a mistake that many retailers may be making by primarily focusing on traditional media.

“There is still no better mass-awareness and communication vehicle than TV,” said Harley Block, senior vice president of brand development and marketing at Rokkan, New York. 

“That said, maintaining a healthy marketing mix in terms of channels is paramount,” he said. “If you're doing TV, you need to also ensure you've got sound digital, social and mobile initiatives to support and compliment that flagship campaign piece.”

Digital confusion
While digital continues to play a bigger role for retailers in driving sales and loyalty, the study indicates that many marketers are not clear on how to divvy up a digital budget.

This is particularly true with mobile since the medium cuts across multiple digital tactics.

For example, 88 percent of retailers are using social media this holiday season. This represents 14 percent of digital paid media spend from this group of retailers, up from 10 percent in 2012.

Meshing this spend with mediums such as mobile where the majority of social media activity is taking place is still a challenge for marketers.

A whopping 99 percent of the marketers using social this year are incorporating Facebook into their strategies, and 52 percent are leveraging Twitter.

Twenty-seven percent of CMOs are using Pinterest, and 24 percent are working YouTube into marketing.

BDO’s findings represent opinions from 11 of the top grossing 100 retailers. It was conducted via a telephone survey in September and October 2013.

Mismatched intentions
Despite the diminishing mobile investments, the opportunity for retailers with the medium continues to grow as more online commerce takes place via smartphones and tablets.

In fact, IBM reported this weekend that mobile accounted for 25.8 percent of Thanksgiving sales and 21.8 percent on Black Friday (see story). 

Retailers cited a lack of return as one of the reasons why mobile spend has slowed down this year.

As mobile loses some of its novelty and becomes mainstream for more brands, the mobile industry risks losing momentum from marketers if the battle to prove ROI continues.

Instead of solely focusing on conversions and sales — which are only a fraction of total digital sales — retailers would benefit from putting a bigger focus on engagement in 2014. 

Forrester Research predicts that online commerce will bring in $78 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 in the United States this holiday, which is a 15 percent spike from 2012. Mobile's contribution to this amount is small, and the research firm expects for the medium to be primarily used as a research tool.

Therefore, savvy marketers will balance out media buys with campaigns that marry traditional and digital elements next year. 

For instance, enhancing the in-store experience with mobile has been a big priority for bricks-and-mortar retailers this year as the threat of showrooming and online commerce grows. 

Still, as consumers more frequently interact with digital media for longer periods of time than they are spending with traditional media, marketers risk becoming less relevant by holding back digital-specific marketing spend.

“Investing heavily in traditional media over digital is like investing in a Walkman over an iPod,” said Eileen Bernardo, communications manager at Viralheat, San Mateo, CA.

“While traditional media can still catch the attention of a consumer audience during a commercial break or flipping through magazine pages, the majority of consumers today turn to the Internet when looking to buy a product or service,” she said. “Consumers log into their social networks to ask or look for the opinions of their peers, as word-of-mouth and online reviews are more trusted forms of advertisement than print or TV ads.”

Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer. Reach her at lauren@mobilemarketer.com.

 
Related content: Research, mobile, mobile marketing, BDO USA, Natalie Kotlyar, retail, mobile ad spend

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