Derek Lu is senior strategist at the Media Kitchen

Forrester calls it the purchase funnel. McKinsey dubs it the customer decision journey. Both aim to explain the hypothetical yet complex path from the moment a person comes into contact with a brand to the point of purchase. But neither could have anticipated the dramatic effect the mobile device has had on that journey.

Before there was digital e-commerce, people relied on their friends, families and traditional forms of media to inform them of new products. Then the Internet came along and expedited the purchase process while introducing another vehicle that marketers could use to reach the masses. Social provided brands a side door to amplify their reach and consumers another medium in which to discover. Still, the purchase funnel was relatively unaffected, until the smartphone came along and put everything together.

It travels in your pocket and connects you instantly to infinite information. In this mobile world, this notion that a purchase decision follows a sequential order of events over a period of time no longer applies. The smartphone enables us to pass freely in and out of the traditional purchase decision funnel at a velocity that is unprecedented. Consider this: 48 percent of consumers now expect retailers’ mobile websites to load in one second or less.

Mobile has created an ecosystem unlike anything we’ve seen before. Apps such as Amazon, RedLaser and Smoopa enhance the shopping experience, giving people instant access to price comparisons at the point of purchase. Yelp, Swagbucks and Shopkick all help accelerate consideration. We also have apps that take people from discovery to purchase effortlessly, such as Gilt, Groupon and even Fancy. Social platforms such as Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook are the mobile highways that transform purchases to mass awareness, consideration and brand advocacy.

Not surprisingly, expectations have evolved just as quickly. According to the 2014 study conducted by the MMA, xAd and Telemetrics, we know three important things: 42 percent of shoppers say mobile is the most important media for their decision, 66 percent of mobile consumers are looking to make a purchase that same day, and pricing and location look-ups for purchase research make up 60 percent of top activities.

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Here, then, are some considerations that we share with clients when we map out the mobile purchase journey.

Delivering awareness
The best places to deliver awareness are the places where your consumers are already spending the majority of their time. To reach today’s mobile-first audience, retail brands that have yet to establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram will need to play catch-up.

Take Nike, for example: By encouraging women to join the conversation, Nike’s most recent campaign “Better for it” amplifies its social reach with every mention of the hashtag, #betterforit. Additionally, Nike’s social posts drive users to the Nike app and encourage consumers to shop on their mobile optimized site, making their social platforms a nucleus for cyclical awareness, advocacy and ultimately purchase.

Building brand familiarity
Even if you have the resources to develop a mobile-first app for your customers, there’s little guarantee that it will see engagement. Instead, consider partnering with the litany of apps out there that consumers are using to discover products and enhance their shopping experiences. These include but are not limited to Gilt, Wanelo, Fancy and Shopkick. For instance, Shopkick offers retail brands a complete and unique mobile solution that places products in front of consumers throughout the entire purchase funnel, while driving an average cost per conversion that can be 10 times more efficient than search.

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Purchase
The fact is consumers still prefer to purchase on desktop and in-store. The speed with which retail brands are optimizing the purchase for mobile has not caught up with consumer expectations. We expect this to change over the next few years. In the meantime, it’s important for retail brands to embrace this behavioral shift and support it. Consider offering in-store Wi-Fi, engaging with consumers with beacon technology, and partnering with vendors such as Urban Airship to send relevant push notifications that can significantly impact sales.

Often,retail advertising is used ineffectively and dumbed down as retargeting. Amazon and a few other brands have shown that it can be effective, even when retargeting on mobile devices, but this still requires a cross-platform audience connector such as Facebook.

However, as we see consumers weave effortlessly in and out of the purchase funnel using mobile, we also see an opportunity to drive better engagement because we now have the means to pinpoint where consumers are in their purchase journey.

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