Live from the Global Retail Insights 2011 report release #ACRS

I spent the first part of this morning in the audience of the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS) Global Retail Insights report. The event started with a presentation from Dr Sean Sands from the ACRS, who discussed cross-channel activity and how spending and customer behaviour are moving from traditional channels to newer media channels. He also highlighted the propensity for consumers to undertake online research before making a purchase, using online services such as websites and search engines, particularly through mobile, before heading out to a shopping mall. In terms of purchasing, the physical store still reigns supreme, with retailer and manufacturer websites ranked third and fourth.

He also talked about mobile and the way that it was changing the game once more, such as through enabling consumers to do on-the-spot price comparisons in-store. The number of consumers who access retail websites through their mobile phone has grown from 24 percent last year to 33 percent now. He also talked about social media, and the fact that 40 percent of people who “like” a Facebook page do so to seek discounts and promotions, but many do so to learn more, stay informed, and get access to entertainment and exclusive content. Dr Sands also discussed location-based services, specifically Facebook’s check-in facility that enables people to redeem coupoons through their mobile phone.

Looking forward, he said trditional retailers saw integration of online systems with existing business models as being the biggest challenge, particularly for franchise operators. While 45 percent of investment will be in advertising and promotion, 41 percent of investment will go into enabling online selling. He also highlighted the use of video, particularly at Marks & Spencer, that has created videos about both its products but also the stories behind them, and French Connection’s Youtique video site. And he showed the Lego augmented reality experience, which uses AR to show what a toy looks like once its assembled.

The second presentation was from Andrew Eckford from Google Australia, who talked about the recent move by many Australian retailers to get online in a serious way. The growth of shopping related search queries hit 35 percent last year, and is much higher in some categories. On mobile devices the number of shopping-related queries as a percentage of the total searches grew from 2.5 percent in January 2009 to around 17.5 percent by December, and 50 percent of Australians will have access to a smartphone by the end of 2011. Mobile devices can bring consumers closer to retail content and services when they need them.

ACRS’ Carla Ferraro discussed specific research around green consumers, while Salmat’s Sean McDonell discussed multichannel strategies, and the fact that things are only going to get faster. He also touched on how traditional retailers can balance their new investment in multichannel strategies against their existing investment in bricks-and-mortar retailing. He said the first step was to recognise that there was a change, and some retailers contended that they would reduce their retail space, or re-dedicate it to collection facilities or other ways of supporting their online activity. Once again however, the key theme was the rise of mobile and its importance as both a mechanism for building a connection to customers and driving transactions.