This IS the Next Big Thing

Smart phone Mobile Apps! Just like the accessibility of airplane travel for the masses revolutionalized the travel industry, smart phones will revolutionalize the retail industry. Although I may use hyberbole on occasion (but only to make a point), this is not one of those times. They will truly change the industry as we know it. 2011 will be the tipping point — the point where the line on the penetration chart crosses over. More than 50% of cell phones in the United States will be smart phones versus functional phones, according to Nielsen. That means massive penetration of mobile app capability for consumers. 

Oh yes, those iPads are quite nice, and Boomers especially love them. They, along with notebook and netbook computers, are not going away. But can you put them in your pocket? Will you carry them to the movies on date night or to the Red Sox (my Boston roots are showing) game? Consumers want to buy the dress they just saw Sarah Jessica Parker wear in the movie and order the “We’re Number 1” logo shirt after the series-winning run before they leave the venue. The college crowds don’t think they need an iPad if they have a laptop and a smart phone. A netbook doesn’t fit in a fashionista’s little clutch when she is out on the town. Companies can restrict access to outside Web sites on your office PC but not on your personal cell phone. So smart phones are it for portability and usability, as consumers will let their thumbs do the job with mobile apps in a variety of daily activities. 

Whether you are a department, big box, drug, specialty, food, off-price or convenience store, wake up and see the thumbs moving. E-commerce has grown exponentially over store growth in the last few years. Consumers will never stop visiting stores altogether, but they have radically changed their buying habits forever thanks to highly functional Web applications for price checking and shopping. smart phones can now put all that functionality in their hands every minute of the day, wherever they are. It’s in a retailer’s best interest to capitalize on mobile apps to further decrease information processing and advertising costs, as well as find new opportunities for sales growth.

Rather than write 10 or 11 prognostications for 2011, because mobile apps are the next big thing, I give you 11 mobile apps that retailers need to consider implementing to stay competitive in this revolutionary new retail world: 

1. Price checking — Make sure you put your best offer forward when you know consumers are competitive checking. 

2. Shopping — Enable product purchases anywhere using a product code.

3. Advertising — Send an ad based on the time of day or when the consumer hits the mall.

4. Market research — Collect immediate feedback.

5. Payment processing — Verify and process credit and debit cards.

6. Advertising effectiveness measurement — Get immediate feedback on when and where your broadcast, print and outdoor ads are seen. 

7. Coupon and credit redemption — Save the paper; send and process these.

8. Self checkout — In-store app to cut the checkout lines.

9. Product directions and care — Make information and assistance readily available from the product code.

10. Customer service — Give immediate responses and gain customer satisfaction.

11. Pre-order food and drinks — Yes, even at your snack or Starbucks counter, this will increase sales and convenience.

Final words of encouragement to all retailers: Join the mobile app shopping revolution to reduce operating costs and increase sales. 

Final words of doom: If you don’t join the revolution, within the decade see your business crushed by the pounding thumbs finding your competitors’ mobile apps. 

Cynthia Cohen is president of Strategic Mindshare, a retail strategy consulting firm. Follow Cynthia’s consumer trend findings and retail reviews at or friend her at

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