August 16th, 2015 | 5 MIN READ

Understanding Mobile Context: At Home, On the Go and In-store

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.


Optimizing your mobile experience requires an understanding of mobile's role in the purchase journey. Device detection only determines the experience format (e.g. responsive design), but it's the context that best determines the content, offers and features you deliver, and your users' satisfaction with your websites and apps.

A mobile user's context involves where he or she is, and his or her purpose for the site/app visit, e.g. product discovery, research, price comparison, purchase, or customer service.

Because you can't glean this information as easily as you can discern referral source, geolocation or device type, it's best to design experiences that at a high level serve use cases for those at home (or work), on-the-go and in-store, and the typical tasks that accompany each context.

A recent study by Forrester Research commissioned by RetailMeNot surveyed over 500 US consumers who own smartphones, revealing some interesting insights on which shopping activities are conducted in which context.


How might a marketer apply this data to a contextual mobile commerce strategy?

Store locators

Store location is the most frequently used mobile feature, with this task performed almost equally at home and on the go, but only half as often in-store.

If you're an omnichannel shop, store locators matter, and should be accessible from main navigation - not hidden behind menus.



While store locator icons may be popular, with mobile menus it's always safer to use a label than icon for clarity.


Interaction with a store locator is also an important piece of behavioral context -- a signal to convert offline. You may choose to tailor your content and offers differently to visitors and repeat visitors based on this insight, or segment them out of your A/B tests as they are less likely to arrive at your checkout process, for example.

Review content

Engaging with customer reviews is a signal of intent to buy (though not necessarily to buy from your site). The review-reading customer may be in-store (yours or a competitor's), but is more likely at home, seated or "leaning back," with more time to spend online. This customer is likely in the research/evaluation phase and not quite ready to buy, and is a good candidate for mobile remarketing campaigns and mobile live chat.

Coupon codes

Coupon codes are a signal of intent to buy from you, a good sign! However the intent may be to purchase by mobile or to use the coupon in-store (55% in-store vs. 30-some-percent digital). Smart marketers employ tracking to trace mobile coupons honored in-store to their referring sources / campaigns and even customer profiles where possible to give you a better understanding of *real* conversion rates and mobile's role in-store.

Price comparison

Price-checking is another universal habit across contexts. Mobile search plays a key role in this behavior. It's not enough to optimize your website, consider including prices in your title tags and mobile ad copy, and connecting your inventory with Google's Local Inventory Ads program to expose pricing, proximity and product availability to Googler's with local intent.

Price-comparing customers are further down the funnel than review-readers, and time may truly be of the essence once a shopper is in this stage. Google reports that 73% of mobile searches lead to some form of “touch” conversion (calling the business or visiting the store), and half of these actions occur within one hour. 50% of smartphone product searchers with local intent visit a store within 24 hours (vs 34% of desktop and tablet users).

It's tough to detect when a customer is merely price-checking your website or mobile site, or intend to poke around. Single-page "bounces" may be a clue. Assume a visitor is not merely price-checking after viewing multiple product pages, visiting category pages or otherwise browsing your content. Again, you can use this context for remarketing, or for personalizing return visits.


When products are not available in-store, "endless-aisle" access to inventory online and across stores allows the customer to either buy through mobile, ship to store or reserve-and-collect. This integrated data is highly valuable to prevent losing the sale to a competitor via mobile-local search.


According to this data, mobile users are most likely to complete checkout when they're at home. However, they may have engaged with your mobile site or app several times in a single purchase journey on-the-go, in-store, clicking through retail email on their device, following a link on social media, etc. Ensure you're using persistent cookies to retain cart contents for an appropriate length. It's also an excellent feature to display recently viewed items upon return visits, as mobile search and menus can be unwieldy - you want to help customers pick up where they left off.

The future of advanced mobile contextual targeting

When it comes to mobile context, it's not all about "snackable" content for short attention spans. It depends on whether the customer is in-store, at home or on-the-go. At a minimum, your mobile experience strategy should support every task mobile visitors make, from store location to information gathering to checkout.

Above and beyond, marketers can experiment with "responsive experience" where signals of intent gathered through on-site or in-app behavior drive the delivery of content and offers. For example, a first-time, mobile search visitor that exhibits price-checking behavior may be served a time-limited coupon (which would not be shown to other visitors that may be more inclined to buy at a later time, full price).

To achieve this degree of targeting, however, is beyond the capabilities of traditional ecommerce platform-driven experience. The traditional ecommerce platform was developed to serve the "digital" channel (online storefront), before we could even conceive of the digital experiences that are possible today. Complete contextual mobile (and omnichannel) commerce requires integration between data sources and systems, with the flexibility to serve the right content in the right format at the right time.

Today's typical method of integration involves individually wiring websites, apps, and other front-end experiences directly to systems such as CRM, ecommerce, and content management platforms. It's slow and expensive enough to not be a realistic option for most enterprises.

Integration can be simplified with a commerce integration platform, which aggregates data from all business systems into a universal API that connects commerce capabilities like the product catalog, pricing, promotions and order management with content management systems or marketing cloud solutions.

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