To highlight the mainstreaming of mobile commerce, rather than regurgitate a bunch of stats, let me tell you a personal story – about eating my own words.

As recently as a few years ago, I was not a believer in mobile commerce. I remember distinctly making a sarcastic comment to a co-worker: “Yeah, right, I’m going to be waiting for a train and all of a sudden say, ‘hey, maybe I’ll buy a basketball right now.’” We had a good laugh at the seeming implausibility of it.

Fast forward to earlier this summer. While on a train platform I remembered I needed a basketball to go with the new hoop I just set up for my kids. With a few minutes to spare before the train came, I did some quick research, made a choice, and placed an order – then slapped myself as I thought back to what I had said just a few years ago.

Here’s the question for today’s retailers: how many of you are as myopic now as I was back then? Sure, you recognize that mobile commerce is growing, and that it’s an increasingly important part of your business. Maybe it’s already substantial enough that you’re devoting significant resources to generating mobile traffic and developing an app. But are you taking the steps necessary to become a truly mobile-first retailer?

What is a mobile-first retailer, anyway?

  • First, a mobile-first retailer must have digital consumer interactions optimized for mobile. Many retailers are already on this journey. Early steps include building web sites with responsive design and creating mobile apps that offer more than just a product catalog. Note that Demandware was among the first commerce platform vendors to provide built-in responsive design, and a rich set of mobile APIs for app connectivity. Today, responsive design has become fundamental for everything from improving search results to conversion increases.
  • But this was only the beginning. A mobile-first approach to site design takes it a step further, so the experience is built with mobile in mind and the desktop web site becomes the afterthought. Ever-expanding mobile APIs that support even more creative apps is also part of this. These investments were recently highlighted as part of the Demandware roadmap.
  • Another aspect of being a mobile-first retailer is being unafraid to drive traffic to your mobile experience, even at the expense of your full website. Instead of viewing mobile as a layover to the full web site, retailers must consider mobile a destination unto itself. Advertising, social media, emails and in-store signage must lead with mobile in the message. Of course, along with this willingness to drive mobile traffic must come a maniacal obsession with removing friction and obstacles from the mobile buying experience. Demandware’s recent announcement with Apple Pay is a great example of this.
  • Mobile-first isn’t just a digital commerce thing. Retailers must adopt a mobile-first mentality in the store as well. Most retailers are in the very early days here. A good starting point is getting store associates out from behind the counter and away from the cash-wrap, using mobile devices on the store floor to interact with consumers. This provides better customer service, is more engaging for consumers, and lets associates capitalize on every spare moment. How? They can quickly hop between helping shoppers, catching up on back-office tasks and checking in on the day’s results. This is incredibly empowering for store associates, and is a key objective of Demandware Store, Demandware’s POS and store operations solution.
  • But don’t stop there. Give customers a reason to pull out their phones in the store and use them to add value to their visit. Strive for the nirvana of letting consumers use their devices to get product info, check inventory, request help from store associates, and even check out. Think of mobile and stores like chocolate and peanut butter – an irresistible combination.
  • Of enormous importance in being a mobile-first retailer is extending and enabling commerce to wherever consumers engage with your brand. That includes social channels, messaging apps, search, IoT and, as the Pokemon Go craze demonstrates, games. Consumers will find your brand wherever, however and whenever they are online. You must not only be present in all these channels, but also deliver a seamless shopping experience – enabling consumers to make a purchase from any Internet-connected device, platform or application without having to visit your site to do so. This concept – distributed commerce – completely shifts the shopping perspective to consumers who shop as part of the experience they are already having. And it’s a game changer.
  • Like most transformative forces, mobile mustn’t just be seen as a technology to be put to work. Your company needs to refashion itself as a mobile-first organization. This means changing strategies, processes and even culture. Consider KPIs that may become outdated in a mobile world, like conversion rate. In a mobile-first culture, the conversion rate of any individual consumer touchpoint can’t be considered in isolation – each touch is a part of a journey that ultimately leads to a purchase and the deepening of a relationship with a consumer. This is a point seen clearly in the insight from the Demandware Shopping Index. It’s a sign your culture is stuck if your millennial employees need to explain to their luddite, middle-aged bosses why it’s OK that conversion rate on one channel might be down, as long as overall results are trending up.

All of this, and much more, will be covered next week in an exhaustive report – Mobile Shopping Focus, an exhaustive analysis of one billion global site visits and hundreds of millions of transactions. Hopefully, armed with this knowledge, you’re starting to challenge your assumptions about the future of mobile. It’s important. The worst part of my personal anecdote is feeling stupid about it a few years later, but in your case there’s much more at risk – your company’s success and your own career.

I’ll stop there – I’m off to shoot some hoops with the kids. I’ll have my phone handy in case I need to do any shopping while I’m at it.