Mobile Retailing 101

So what’s all the buzz about it? Here’s how you can start taking advantage of this growing and important trend.
by Liz Barrett

Just when you thought you were catching up with technology by completing your website and setting up a Facebook page, mobile retailing has come along to throw you for a loop. The ability to access the Internet through our mobile phones has opened up a whole new world for retailers. The senior vice president of global ecommerce for Walmart recently said that while the previous era focused on taking the store and bringing it to the Web, the next generation is bringing the Web to the store. And the numbers are there to back up this theory. ABI Research reports that mobile commerce grew 143%—from $1.4 billion in 2009 to $3.4 billion in 2010, while the National Retail Federation projects that by 2015 shoppers around the world will use mobile phones to purchase goods and services worth close to $120 billion.

The good news is mobile retailing is still fairly new and can be a relatively easy way to bring in new customers and reignite interest from existing customers. And since smartphone and tablet technologies show no signs of slowing down, now is the time to jump in and start exploring your options.

Beauty Store Business has compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about mobile retailing and marketing with some easy-to-understand answers to help you get ready for this next retailing era.


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What is mobile retailing?

Simply speaking, mobile retailing is the act of taking the ecommerce we’re all familiar with from shopping the Internet on a personal computer, and applying it to mobile devices. Of course, there’s a bit more technology that goes into it since we’re dealing with a handheld device. But the main idea is to eliminate the need for a PC and be able to market to your customers any time of day or night since most people always carry their phones with them. Let’s look at some individual components and the different ways in which they are used.

  • SMS short message service) marketing is exactly what the name implies—short messages (texts) sent to the customers you target. Once you start building a list of opt-in subscribers, you can send texts (sparingly) to announce store promotions, deals, coupons and any other alerts that might entice a customer to come in. Many companies are skilled in preparing you for a SMS campaign when you’re ready.
  • QR (quick response) codes work just like a barcode, allowing users with a QR-scanner application installed on their phones (free to download off the Web) to scan the small code and pull up information via their phones such as product information, a website, instructional videos and more. Manufacturers have started adding these codes to productsso that customers can learn more right at the point of purchase; you can easily generate your own codes and use them to lead customers to your website, special product promotions and more.
  • Mobile applications, or apps, can most easily be compared to software for a computer. There are hundreds of apps available that help users be more productive or organized in their lives. Check into existing shopping-based apps to see if your store shows up, and consider contacting an app designer to create your own app that ties into your store.
  • Location-based/geo-targeted mobile marketing uses GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology to pinpoint customers and allows you to market to them where they are. If a customer is in your neighborhood or walks through your door, you can instantly send her a coupon or a notice about a special promotion.

How can mobile retailing help my business?

In this age of information overload, mobile marketing reaches consumers where they are—everywhere! Another study by ABI Research predicted that 7 trillion text messages would be sent during 2011; Nielsen Mobile reported that the average consumer sends 600 messages per month. No other advertising medium provides access to the consumer 24/7 with the same instant results. And a 2010 study by Borrell Associates found that mobile coupons are redeemed 10 times more often than their print counterparts, which could translate into a boost in coupon redemption at the cash register. This is just the tip of the iceberg as mobile POS systems make their way into stores along with self-assisted ordering and cashless payments.

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Is my current website viewable on smartphones and tablets?

To expose your marketing to as many devices as possible, make sure your website is compatible with smartphones and feature phones. While your site may initially show up on a mobile device, does the text look tiny? Do some of the features of your site not function properly? If you have a Flash-enabled site, it may not work at all. A simple search online will reveal several sites that can convert your site to one that’s compatible with mobile devices—often free of charge if you don’t mind their ads showing up on your mobile site.

How much of my marketing efforts should go toward mobile retailing?

Like any marketing plan, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Mobile retailing should be one piece of a larger marketing campaign, complementing all of the other elements you already have in place. Piece your marketing puzzle together by making sure to mention your other marketing efforts throughout all elements (i.e., invite customers to sign up for text alerts on your website and direct-mail pieces). And don’t neglect your Facebook or Twitter accounts.According to the 2011 Social Commerce Study, a joint research project by, comScore and Social Shopping Labs, 42% of Twitter users use a mobile phone to access the site at least once per day, while the same is true for 34% of Facebook users.

How can I build my list of contacts for mobile advertising?

Building your list may take a bit of legwork up front, but once you have a good one, it’s worth its weight in gold. Start by gathering numbers through in-store contests, email campaigns, social marketing and SMS promotions in your print advertising. In 2010, Twitter introduced a text-building service that invites your followers to opt-in to receive your tweets on their phones. If you go this route, consider setting up a Twitter account that only sends out targeted tweets and deals so that those who opt-in don’t feel bombarded by texts.

What are consumers looking for on a mobile shopping site?

All of your customers are different and will have separate needs when visiting your store’s site on their phones or tablets, but some of the most common items consumers are seeking, according to a Mojiva Mobile Audience Guide survey, include product information, coupons/sale information, product reviews, store information and the ability to purchase products. According to the 2011 Social Commerce Study, 47% of consumers have also accessed customer reviews in-store while using their mobile device.


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What are location-based services or check-ins?

With the help of sites such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook—and now shopping-themed Shopkick—consumers can enter a store, post to their friends that they’ve arrived, earn loyalty points, win discounts or frequent visitor rewards and more. According to eMarketer, about 33 million people used a location-based service during 2010. While location-based applications used to be a fun way to brag to your friends about all of the places you go, they are quickly becoming a vehicle for driving traffic to your store. Ultimately, users of location-based apps like to get a deal, but many companies are also using them for loyalty reward programs and for rewarding customers when they perform a certain action, such as snapping a photo of themselves with a product in the store and tweeting it to their friends. Some check-in apps can also supply you with demographic information about those who checked in, which can help in your other marketing efforts.

Should I offer my customers mobile coupons?

eMarketer estimates that by 2013 35.6 million mobile owners will have redeemed a mobile coupon or code for online or offline shopping. A recent survey conducted by Proper Mobile Insights found that 42.2% of smartphone and tablet users had scanned a barcode from their screen or shown a promo code to a cashier. The days of paper coupons are increasingly fading. You can email digital coupons to your customers or choose to have them sent to their phones automatically when they are near your store (location-based coupons).

What are mobile payments?

Mobile payments are the next step in mobile purchasing. Mobile payments involve using your phone as a tool to pay for a purchase. While this is just starting to take off here in the United States (it's been popular in Japan for a while), someday it will mean leaving your wallet at home and using your phone as a credit card via a simple tap on the screen. What this means for you, in the long term, is the ability to load your coupons into a customer's mobile wallet and then obtain additional consumer data once the coupons are redeemed and products are paid for through the customer's mobile device.

Mobile Retailing 101: Going Mobile

Going Mobile

Ready to try mobile retailing? Here’s a sampling of service providers that are available to help.
Mobile Marketing Providers
BLI Messaging, 800.929.1643
Cellit, 800.790.6597
iLoop Mobile, 408.907.3360
Mobile SMS Marketing
Mojiva, 646.862.6201
Must Go Mobile
Ruxter, 800.763.1953
Text Ripple

Mobile App Developers
9magnets, 219.688.9924
Endeavour Software Technologies, 512.464.1218,
MutualMobile, 800.208.3563
MyFirstMobileApp, 818.660.2319,
Zco Corp., 603.881.9200

Location-Based Services
Facebook Places
Google Latitude

Mobile Retailing 101: A Blueprint for Success

A Blueprint for Success

The National Retail Federation Mobile Retail Initiative recently released its updated version of the Mobile Retailing Blueprint, a 185-page comprehensive guide to helping you navigate mobile retailing. The complete report is available for download at [][/url], and we’ve included a few tips here to get you started.

Shopping Tools
Many useful shopping tools are available for consumers from both retailers and third parties; these tools enhance the shopping experience and generally influence consumers indirectly. Adding these tools to a retailer’s mobile application adds value to the application, making it more likely that a consumer will rely on the application. Such tools include:

  • Product holds: Product holds enable a consumer on the way to a brick and mortar to hold a product.
  • Card aggregation: Consumers want to minimize the number of different cards they carry. Mobile phones provide a unique opportunity to consolidate cards, especially loyalty cards, which have become more popular in recent years, on one easily accessible device.
  • Nearby search: Applications running on phones equipped with GPS capabilities can determine the consumer’s location; the application can search for nearby stores, restaurants, products and events.
  • Recommendations: Deciding which product to purchase can be daunting. Fortunately, guides are available on the Internet. Mobile applications can provide product recommendations at the time of purchase, which can influence consumer behavior. Retailers that can become trusted advisers to their customers will establish long-term relationships that can be very profitable.

Loyalty Programs
Typical loyalty programs include three major functions. One function allows the participant to sign up for the program; another provides some method of identifying the participant at checkout to award or redeem points; a third, administrative function, allows consumers to manage their accounts, typically using a website. Mobile phones allow all three functions to be combined in such a way that a consumer has constant access to the loyalty program. This convenience benefits both the program participant and the retailer.
The ability to tie a loyalty membership number to a mobile phone not only dramatically increases customer participation in a loyalty program, it also enhances the data that is collected about that customer. The average household belongs to 14.1 loyalty programs but is only active in 6.2. The main reasons for this discrepancy are typically a lengthy sign-up process, not understanding the program, not being able to quickly redeem the rewards or simply not wanting to carry multiple cards or key fobs. The mobile phone can address all of these issues, while allowing the program owner to develop data in addition to information about what the consumer does at the POS.

Mobile Retailing 101: Ready to Shop

Wondering what apps are already available to help consumers shop? Check out some of the most popular ones, according to PCWorld.

  • The Red Laser app allows customers to scan an item’s barcode and check prices from online and local retailers for a comparison.
  • Geolocation app Shopkick lets customers collect points and redeem rewards depending on which stores they visit.
  • The Coupon Sherpa app is a searchable coupon database that allows customers to ditch coupon stacks.
  • Key Ring ( scans and stores all store loyalty reward cards so they’re all in one place and easily accessible.
  • The CompareMe app lets consumers compare the price difference between purchasing one item or that same item in bulk.
  • Google Shopper does a bit of everything, from scanning barcodes to showing a deal of the day to searching products via voice input.
  • Buzzillions gives users access to thousands of user reviews with the swipe of a barcode. ■

Liz Barrett is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS.
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