February 17, 2017
Does mobile-first approach miss the point?
By: $name

The desktop is dead, and if you want to engage with Generation Y, let alone Generation Z, you will need to be mobile first. That’s what a quick glance at statistics on the growth of mobile in the U.K. will tell you, usually painting it as a channel that owes its success to attention stolen from the desktop.

According to Ofcom 2015 Communications Market Report, the balance tipped in 2015 when 33% of internet users identified their mobile as the most important device for going online, compared to 30% choosing their laptop. In 2014, it was 40% for laptop and 22% for mobile. Mobile also gets more airtime. The average U.K. adult spends two hours a day (of their non-work time) on their mobile, but only one hour on their PC or laptop.

Marketers have responded to this changing landscape, and, in 2016, for the first time in the U.K, mobile display ad spend overtook desktop ad spend.

But is that it? Is the PC/laptop over as a consumer channel? You could be forgiven for thinking so. Take a look at the people around you on the train, in the coffee shop, or preoccupying themselves while with their children in the park. You could be led to believe it’s not just about accepting mobile first but realising it should be mobile only. If you are not connecting with these people via an app, targeting them through Facebook, or at least able to give them a dedicated mobile-orientated web experience, they’ll be lost to you.

However, the statistics and the field evidence oversimplify the situation. Clearly, the desktop/laptop format is not ready to be consigned to the history books quite yet. For starters, this article is being written on one.

For the next few years, at least, the PC will continue to own the enterprise setting and the majority of our “eye time” during the working day (and those browsing spells we fit into the working day). Indeed, U.K. and U.S. PC sales numbers belie the fact that the total number of desktop users worldwide is still growing, even if it is at a slower rate than mobile. Similarly, viewing mobile as a replacement for desktop misunderstands the goals customers have on different channels.

In fact, not understanding the different customer engagement opportunities of mobile and desktop could hurt a brand on both channels.

Desktop Engagement
Typically, customers still prefer the desktop when they are in the assimilation phase. It’s still the go-to when they want to research a product. Consumers are also more likely to default to desktop when the journey is more involved, or is a one-off higher-value purchase, or requires a greater degree of customisation.

If a customer is looking to spend time researching and ensuring a product is right for them, this, therefore, presents a greater engagement opportunity. The desktop display size allows brands the freedom to blend and mix content to support and amplify an offer—more than is possible through a mobile screen format.

Likewise, configurators work best when presented over desktop. Nike has taken advantage of desktop’s larger screen to provide a function for customers to customise trainers with different designs and colours. By pairing the goals of their customers on desktop with the design opportunity unique to the channel, Nike has delivered an excellent customer experience.

If brands focus their digital customer experience strategy solely on an app, or develop a responsive website that prioritises the user experience design of mobile, the customer engagement opportunity unique to desktop could be lost.

Mobile Engagement
For mobile, it is important to cater to the type of interactions customers want to have when they are using a small screen and might be on the go. Customers will default to their mobiles when they are looking for an immediate piece of information or to make a purchase on the spot. Indeed, in the dual-screening world, consumers will increasingly browse and research the product on desktop and purchase via app or mobile.

Making a desktop site mobile-enabled does not go far enough to meet customer goals on mobile. The phone will increasingly be seen as the transaction enabler. Recent Accenture research found that, globally,  37% of shoppers would like the ability to order out-of-stock items in store on their mobile phone (only 45% of retailers can provide this capability). Real-time location services allow companies such as to give you the most relevant offers and availability at the point you might need them most. Similarly, as the success of Uber proves, some services will only work on mobile.

Be Omnidevice Ready
The debate between legacy channels and a mobile-first strategy misses the point. A singular focus on prioritising digital investment in mobile, either through the most responsive or adaptive website, or the glitziest range of consumer apps, only serves to exacerbate the channel siloes that exist.

The intent behind mobile first is, in reality, to enable customer functions or services across the device of relevance. By the time many brands feel that they are fully mobile ready, voice interaction devices and services will be transforming the concept of user interfaces. Similarly, the journey management that we are designing into our platforms will be overtaken by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Channels and devices will evolve.

Being mobile first really means being omnidevice ready. Today’s sales and service functions will need to be accessed across a much broader range of IoT and connected technologies, whether in your home, car, workplace, or public spaces. Getting ready for this is not about designing mobile or app experiences, but about building a consistent basis to know your customer across channels.

Omnidevice readiness will require the ability to tailor your content and offer to the most relevant channel, and create a common set of function services that let you interact with your customer whatever the device they adopt.

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