How smartphones are solving the online/offline commerce quandry

By Pete Christothoulou, CEO of Marchex @PChristothoulou

This week, the eagerly anticipated Internet Trends report from Mary Meeker and KPCB confirmed what most of us already knew: Our mobile phones are now the primary tethers connecting us to the online world. Adults spend 2.8 hours per day consuming digital media from mobile devices, up from just 45 minutes in 2011.

The report lays out the meteoric rise of e-commerce, now 9 percent of total retail sales and $300 billion of consumer expenditures. But a more interesting trend wasn’t included in the report: the shift in a consumer’s path to purchase towards online-influenced, offline purchases. These purchases amount to a whopping $1.5 trillion in consumer expenditures, and they’re increasingly influenced by consumers’ mobile research and mobile media consumption.

Even as our smartphones are the center of our online universe, they also bridge the gap between the online world and the “real world.” Whether we’re using them to order a coffee at Starbucks, buy a new phone at T-Mobile or get in touch with a Chevy dealer using a click-to-call feature, our mobile devices have a crucial role to play in many of our real-world purchases. The PC was never this influential.

These purchases are driven by human connections and physical experiences – things like the need to look at and feel something in a store, get advice from a sales representative and the fact that we can’t drink virtual coffee (yet, anyway). For marketers, this means that creating authentic, real-world connections is more important than ever.

Unfortunately, the mobile advertising ecosystem still proceeds by a web-exclusive mindset. Sure, the platforms created to buy and sell mobile ads measure a consumer’s path to purchase all the way through to the click, but then the trail goes cold when a consumer makes a phone call or walks in-store.

The net effect is this: Advertisers are wrestling with the immense task of measuring the efficiency of their ad dollars when consumers make the jump from online to offline. Gone are the days when media spend could be easily tied to search-based or display-based desktop clicks.

The PC era did bring us a long way, transforming the industry by making closed-loop marketing achievable for online purchases. But the mobile era promises to push that evolution even further, and the real winners in mobile will build or adopt platforms that hold digital campaigns accountable for real-world purchases – regardless of whether that purchase is in a store or over the phone.

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