Mobile’s Impact on Shopping Reaches the Tipping Point

By Jennifer Friedberg,

This is the year that retailers stop being afraid of mobile technologies, and instead, are embracing them as a way to engage with, and to better serve, their customers.

Mobile technologies, including the use of iPads and other mobile devices, to speed check-out have already showed up in retail stores. Some retailers, such as the 10-unit C Wonder chain, have eliminated traditional checkout stands altogether. Apple, of course, was a pioneer in this area, joined now by Nordstrom (offering iPad enabled check out as an option), J.C. Penney, Sephora, Levis, Urban Outfitters, AT&T Stores and the Finish Line, to name a few examples from a rapidly growing list.
However, this is just the beginning. Mobile devices are changing the in-store experience by offering information, ideas and more to exceed customer experience expectations, differentiate retailers from competitors and increase customer loyalty. Aerospostale, for example, places iPads in dressing rooms, enabling shoppers to select their own music and access style guides.
With these initiatives already in place, it’s no wonder that this holiday season is seeing another upsurge in retailers’ creativity in embracing mobile technologies, both to encourage and facilitate in-store purchases and to reinforce omni-channel retailing initiatives. Just as important, leading retail marketers are finding ways to connect their retail and mobile centers in ways that create a sense of immediacy and motivate consumers to engage and shop now.
Toys “R” Us is embracing mobile to the hilt. Just in time for the holidays, the chain, together with sister company Babies “R” Us, unveiled redesigned mobile-optimized sites, mobile shopping apps and a new tablet-optimized site. All are aimed at providing users with easier access to both brands.
Seeking to build upon the company’s already demonstrated commitment to omni-channel retailing, it is also making it easier for customers to use mobile devices to take advantage of services such as “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” and “Ship to Store”. This creates a unified shopping cart, with shoppers able to navigate seamlessly between both chains, both within the app and through the optimized site.
The re-invigorated app includes a new barcode/QR code scanner that shoppers can use to obtain more information on an item while in-store. By scanning a barcode, the shopper is directed to a page with product details and user reviews and can quickly add the item to their shopping cart. Further, shoppers can use a mobile device or tablet to enter their ZIP code and receive weekly ads and deals for their area. They can also get instant access to additional savings and new deals by signing up for the company’s “R” Mobile Messaging program.
Another example is Target’s holiday promotion around what it has identified as the Top 20 Toys this holiday season. Inside Target stores, there are QR codes for each of these toys. Shoppers can scan these to purchase the item and have it shipped for free.
Somewhat less conventional retailers are also getting in on the act this season. During the Thanksgiving weekend, eBay offered hundreds of mobile-exclusive deals, available via smartphones and tablets. Consumers are also able to shop eBay’s Holiday Collective (a collaboration between the company and seven designers) for limited-edition gifts, including jewelry, apparel, home décor and travel and electronics accessories. By using eBay’s Fashion mobile app, consumers can shop this collection 24 hours in advance of the on-sale date. Further, a shoppable gift guide from eBay is available exclusively on iPhones.
In eBay’s case, it is also using mobile for charitable purposes. Consumers are able to visit eBay Toy Box (a pop-up retailing experience). By scanning the special tags featured on each item, a shopper can easily donate a toy to a child this holiday season. The Toy Box will be open from December 6-9 in New York City’s Meatpacking District.
These and numerous other retailers are embracing the fact that smartphones and tablets are being used not only for research and for social sharing, but also for making actual purchases. IMGRG/Cap Gemini is predicting that sales from mobile devices will increase a whopping 110% this holiday season, accounting for 21% of all online sales. (Online sales, in turn, are expected to reach $68.4 billion this holiday season, according to Forrester Research). The National Retail Federation’s holiday consumer spending survey also found that close to two-thirds (64%) of consumers who own tablets, and more than half (53%) of those who own smartphones, are expected to use their devices to research and purchase holiday gifts.
So what does this mean for the future of retailing? First and foremost, retailers must develop a mobile strategy and plan and keep it fresh. Consumers expect to access content, and inventory on any of their personal devices.

Progressive retail marketers are redefining the way they plan, execute and measure programs to capitalize on the opportunity to more deeply engage with their customers – and to ultimately generate sales. Tactically this includes:

  • Developing a mobile-optimized website (including tablets);
  • Building custom apps that educate/inform and facilitate purchasing (and making them available for both iOS and Android operating systems);
  • Keeping abreast of emerging technologies and integrating these into the overall strategy;
  • Integrating the use of mobile into all promotional planning;
  • Using (or at least experimenting with) geo-targeting, pushing product offering information and/or special promotions to consumers based upon their physical location (such as new programs now in place at Target and Wal-Mart) for timely flash sales;
  • Creating personalized, compelling experiences via mobile that engage consumers and facilitate purchasing across all channels.

The lessons and successes related to the use of mobile this holiday season are going to significantly impact all retailers going forward. They will recognize, once and for all, that mobile sites, apps and more are no longer a “nice to have”, but rather a vital component of a successful business strategy. We expect to see retailers of all sizes making a significant commitment – in terms of time, dollars and creativity – to moving forward with mobile initiatives.

Jennifer Friedberg is the head of the consumer products & retail vertical at Rosetta. With over 20 years of marketing and interactive experience, she has worked with a variety of leading global brands and early-stage companies. She can be reached at

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