There is something about being present for an historical inflection point that is equal parts terrifying, exhilarating and inspiring. So it is for retailers as the mobile revolution that for years has been a topic of conversation, is now in full-on upheaval mode. Two recent deep dives -- one by consultancy PwC, also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, and another by Forrester Research and Shop.org -- state loudly and clearly that when it comes to building an engaging mobile experience, 21st century reatilers can run, but they cannot hide. “When we talk about disruption, we really need to think about mobile,” George Gallate, CEO of digital marketing agency Merkle/RKG, told PwC. “Every year has been the age of mobile, but I would say 2014, with a little bit of 2013, really has been the age of mobile. That is the complete disrupting factor for a retailer.” Consumers, by all indications have embraced mobile devices as their go-to shopping tool. Retailers have been left scrambling to adjust to the notion that mobile gadgets drive sales, even if those sales might ultimately be executed on a laptop, desktop or in a brick-and-mortar store. “The upshot is today the smartphone is more of an instrument for getting to the point of buying a product rather than a tool for the actual purchase,” PwC’s report concludes. (See this post for a look at the effect of digital on Valentine’s Day romance.) To appreciate the significance of mobile in 2015, consider a few findings from PwC and the Forrester/Shop.org report as summarized in a company news release:

  • Mobile sales as a percentage of all e-commerce revenue increased by 50 percent in 2014. The growth is even more significant when you consider that e-commerce sales, as a percentage of total retail spending, also increased. So, mobile is a growing piece of a bigger pie. (Forrester)

  • Nearly 50 percent of consumers used a mobile phone to make a purchase in 2014, up from 30 percent two years earlier. (PwC)

  • Seventy-three percent of shoppers browse online before making a purchase, a trend that appears to be fueled by mobile, which nearly 50 percent of those surveyed use to research products and compare prices among competitors. (PwC)

  • Nearly 60 percent of retailers surveyed said that mobile initiatives are their top priority this year. (Forrester)

  • Eighty percent of retailers plan to increase their spending on mobile efforts by 20 percent or more in 2015.

The numbers are plain enough. What isn’t quite as apparent is what, exactly, retailers should do about them. Key to any strategy is the concept of “mobile assist,” the idea that an engaging and efficient mobile experience is a fundamental foundation for sales on other channels. BloomReach’s own data, based on 31 million visits to nine retailers over one month, showed that, on average, for every $1 a consumer spent on mobile, he or she spent more than four times that amount on the desktop. And extensive work by Deloitte Digital has established that mobile devices are a key to driving sales in physical stores. By next year, Deloitte says, mobile will be responsible for as much as 21 percent of in-store spending, or $752 billion. In a broader look at consumer habits, Deloitte found that all digital devices, which would include laptops and desktops, are currently driving $1.5 trillion in in-store sales and that digital’s influence will only grow. As mobile becomes a bigger piece of the digital pie, then, it is all the more urgent that retailers devise a mobile strategy that takes full advantage of the rapid shift. Deloitte points out that simply having a digital strategy isn’t enough anymore. “A generic digital strategy, in and of itself, is no differentiator for retailers,” according to Deloitte’s “The New Digital Divide: Retailers, Shoppers and the Digital Influence Factor.” “An effective way for retailers to harness the power of digital is to create a customized digital strategy and distinct digital experience that both address and correspond to the needs and expectations of customers.” And when grading results of their efforts, retailers need to understand that it’s a new digital landscape, in which a direct investment in mobile might show return in areas beyond mobile sales. 8583948123_b0690daff2_z “Digital investments should not be evaluated individually, but instead measured holistically across the enterprise as a means to influence consumer purchase decisions,” the report says. “This represents a better way to accurately understand the net benefit and overall competitive advantage brought to the organization.” The key for retailers, of course, will be to handle the mobile basics -- store location, product availability, checkout -- but to also step up their mobile engagement game. E-commerce operators must recognizing that typing long queries on small screens can become tedious and that it is crucial for mobile sites to return highly relevant and personalized results across various devices to avoiding wearing down customers and inspiring them to go elsewhere to shop. As Simon Forster, an executive with UK-based department store Selfridges told PwC: “We have a customer base that wants to use mobile, so our job is to make it a good experience for them.” In fact, in 2015, for retailers far and wide, it is job one. Photo of smartphone by Jason Howie published under Creative Commons license. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.