Mobile & the Tour to – and Through – the Store

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Guest Contributor

Today’s shoppers increasingly begin their shopping journeys online, on mobile phones and tablets, and effective mobile engagement is the “glue” holding together retail’s digital and physical channels.

With mobile device penetration at an all-time high – over 60% of the world’s population use a mobile
device and the percentage continues to rise – the influence of mobile on the retail industry cannot be overstated, and already, mobile commerce sales account for nearly 30 percent of all U.S. e-commerce sales. But, mobile’s influence on retail goes well-beyond sales transactions that are completed online, for in many ways for many shoppers, mobile has become the new front door of the store.

It’s true.

Retailing giant Target asserts that 98 percent of its customers shop online, and fully 75 percent of them start their shopping experiences on a mobile device. Plus, once through the front door, the mobile device becomes the tour guide for the entire shopping journey – consider, a recent Google/Ipsos study showing 82 percent of shoppers say they consult their phones on purchases they’re considering in-store.

Mobile’s now a two-way street

Retailers’ initial forays into mobile engagement were reactionary in nature, and very much dependent on consumers “pulling” information, with the ante into the mobile game being a mobile responsive web site.

Then, of course, there was mobile search and the idea of guiding local shoppers browsing online into
brick-and-mortar stores to convert, followed quickly by mobile conversion, both online and also in-store with mPOS systems.

Over time, retail marketers have grown to embrace mobile technologies to “push” messages to shoppers and engage them in a sort of two-way dialogue. As with most new retail tactics, the sailing hasn’t always been smooth and there were more than a few tempests to successfully navigate along the way. But, now, retailers with winning mobile engagement strategies are distancing themselves from competitors.

Timely messaging

A key advantage to mobile messaging is its immediacy, and it’s becoming increasingly hard-wired into the way people live their lives with mobile devices. Texting is by far the most widely and most frequently used app on a smartphone – 97 percent of Americans use SMS texts at least once a day, and text messages have a 98 percent open rate and a 45 percent response rate.

Oh, and get this: the average millennial exchanges an average of 67 test messages per day.

Retailers have long used SMS texting, although not always wisely. Because of the immediacy of text messages, perhaps the most critical consideration is context. For example, many airlines succeed at presenting text messages within a customer-centric context by sending travel day alerts like updated departure and arrival times, changing terminals and gates and other contextual, travel-related information. Clearly, travel day is not the right time for a sales promotion or other non-critical information.

Retailers have learned their lesson, and now deploy tactics like texting receipts after purchase, complete with appropriate bounceback offers for shoppers’ next visits. With texting and all mobile related tactics, it’s not about what the activation can do for the retailer, but the value it delivers to shoppers. After all, what’s good for shoppers is good for business.

Personalization is relevance

Mobile messaging has the ability to be deeply personal, but personalization goes well beyond putting a customer’s first name on the same message sent to everyone. In fact, maybe it’s time for retailers to stop thinking in terms of “personalization,” and instead think in terms of relevance.

Let’s face it, a 30-year old, married mother likely has very different shopping needs than 50-year old single man. So, why would a retailer want to send them similar messages, or messages that link back to the same hard-coded URL?

There’s no way those two messages are both relevant, and, as such, one of the two – and maybe even both – are about as far away from personalized as one can get.

Mobile platforms like RetailNext’s Mobile Engage help retailers tailor messages based on shoppers’ needs- and values-based shopping behaviors. Relevance – it’s about messaging what’s most important, and those messages are different person to person.

No longer blindfolded to what’s happening in-store

An old adage in marketing is that 50 percent of all marketing spend is wasted, only marketers aren’t sure which half it is. Imagine how much more difficult it gets for retail marketers when they’re blind to what shoppers are doing in the store.

Observing shoppers’ behaviors online is relatively easy, and online stores have made browsing and shopping particularly easy with past purchase histories and prompted suggestions – you know, “people who bought x also bought y.”

A comprehensive mobile engagement platform takes into consideration not just the online portion of the shopper journey, but also what takes place in-store, with the engine being in-store IoT retail analytics. But, it’s not just about offers and promotions.

Marketers can now take everything known about a shopper – demographics, previous purchase patterns, category preferences, etc. – and marry with what is happening in-store – new product introductions, promotions, merchandising, etc. – to trigger content delivery to the specific shopper when she is in the store. Additionally, marketers can also integrate real-time location-specific information like weather, inventory availability, and the like into messaging. Not only are messages relevant (nee: personal), but marketers can drive local promotions without activating across the entire enterprise.

Mobile’s importance to retail success only grows from here, as the front door of the store and tour guide are only the beginning. Successful mobile engagement is critical to succeed with digitally native market segments, like millennials, who at 80 million strong and representing 30 percent of total retail spend by 2020, represent retail’s future. And, without any doubt, the key to that engagement lies – literally – in the palm of shoppers’ hands.  

Join the #retail and #inspiringretail conversations on Twitter @RayHartjen & @RetailNext, as well as at