Mobile 101: A retailer’s guide

18 Comments | This entry was posted in eCommerce, Education, Events, Marketing, Retail Companies, Retail Trends, Technology

I tried to count the number of times I heard retailers talking about iPhone apps, mobile reviews and m-commerce at NRF’s Annual Convention earlier this month, but I lost track once I ran out of fingers. Needless to say, mobile is a huge conversation starter in retail right now with many companies looking at ways to bring in new customers and maximize sales from existing customers through Americans’ love affair with their phones.

So as our colleagues at and RAMA prepare for the inaugural Mobile Boot Camp in San Francisco, we reached out to mobile retail expert Mickey Alam Khan, the MBC10_logoeditor-in-chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, for a primer on what’s happening in mobile right now. Mickey and his colleagues at Mobile Commerce Daily have been responsible for much of the content, speakers and agenda for the Boot Camp, so we were interested to hear what Mickey had to say about companies that are doing it right, the best way for newbies to start, and which device he carries in his pocket.

Mickey Alam Khan

Mickey Alam Khan

The key trend we see is an increase in smartphone sales, mobile applications, mobile advertising and SMS for CRM efforts. Consumers understand the value of content, marketing and commerce on web-enabled smartphones and carriers return the compliment with more affordable data plans. Marketers, retailers and agencies are joining the party to make mobile marketing and commerce the flavor of the decade.

Can you think of any low-hanging fruit – or missed opportunities – where retailers could really take advantage of mobile, but aren’t?

Retailers need to launch mobile sites and – where necessary – mobile applications, as fast as they can. They can’t afford to play catch up. The consumer is already ahead of them in mobile web adoption. Retailers also need to quickly launch SMS programs that tie in with their multichannel loyalty and database marketing efforts. Both efforts are not that difficult but require will within retail organizations that are still trying to put this weak economy behind them.

How would you convince a retail executive that their company should leverage mobile opportunities?

The proof is in the pudding. They can read our publications, Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily. They can attend events such as the March 2 Mobile Boot Camp. They can talk to their peers and start running pilots. It’s not a question of if, but when for retailers. Absence from mobile will cost them market share just as absence from online and e-commerce cost some skeptics in the early years of the Internet.

What advancements in mobile have most surprised you?

The iPhone’s versatility is simply amazing, as is the Motorola Droid’s and the BlackBerry’s. The iPhone and Android platforms have changed the meaning of the Web forever. Sooner or later, more people nationwide will go online through their mobile devices than their computers. Can you imagine the repercussions of this development for marketing and retailing?

I’m also amazed at how a simple technology such as SMS and short codes can generate quick response in times of emergencies such as the Haiti earthquake relief. SMS is available on all mobile phones, basic and Web-enabled smart versions. Imagine what retailers can do if they use SMS to deliver offers, discounts, coupons, directions and links to landing pages.

Of course, I’m also surprised how most retailers and marketers still need proof that mobile is here to stay when more than 233 million consumers nationwide use mobile phones to run their daily life. If retailers are not on the mobile device, they’re out of the 21st century consumer’s life. Retailers must follow the trail and communicate and sell in the channels with the most influence today: store, online and mobile.

Would you argue that the economy makes mobile more or less relevant?

The economy makes mobile more relevant. Many studies have pointed that the mobile phone is the last thing that consumers will give up if their finances are stretched.

The inaugural Mobile Boot Camp will be held at this year’s Retail Innovation & Marketing Conference. What are you most looking forward to about this crash course in mobile?

I’d like our expert speakers to offer live proof of how mobile can help retailers engage with their customers. It would be great to see the audience convinced of the need to enter mobile and add that medium to the marketing and retail mix, go back to their office, become champions for mobile and submit requests for budgets. Each delay in action is a wasted opportunity and a lost customer.

How can a retailer with a limited budget, or who is just getting started, dip a toe into the mobile retailing world?

Start with SMS, which is ideal to drive traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores. Lease a common short code at the U.S. Common Short Code Registry. Short codes are those five- or six-digit numbers to which you can text keywords. For example, the American Red Cross is asking consumers to donate $5 or $10 by texting the keyword HAITI to their 90999 short code.

Short codes cost $500 per month to lease and $1,000 if it’s a vanity number. For example, President Obama’s campaign short code was 62262, which spells OBAMA. Retailers can use short codes to deliver alerts of store openings, new merchandise, special offers and discounts. They can also send coupons or links to drive traffic to mobile sites.

Next, retailers should work with mobile site developers to create a mobile-friendly website that works on all smartphones. Nothing fancy, but make sure the site has a strong search feature and similar branding elements as the stores and online presence. Also, it should have a store locator function and a section for offers or the latest store circulars. Take that step, learn from customer visits and then graduate to a full-fledged mobile commerce site that allows transactions on the mobile phone itself.

An application is good for retailers with weekly circulars and loyalty programs. It kind of duplicates the mobile site, but those with deep pockets are advised to add an application to site and SMS programs. And of course, don’t forget to run mobile advertising campaigns on mobile sites of publisher properties whose readers match the retailer’s customer demographic. Search campaigns on mobile versions of Google, Yahoo and Bing can complement the mobile ads.

You’re set if you have these elements in place. Make sure the mobile team has at least two to three executives, or tie the mobile team with the online or e-commerce department if budgets are tight.

What’s the difference between mobile marketing and mobile commerce?

Mobile marketing encompasses mobile advertising on mobile sites and applications as well as SMS programs, while also including marketing that uses mobile to drive traffic to other channels. Mobile commerce is the use of the mobile medium to conduct search, shopping and transactions on the mobile device, although Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily also consider mobile drivers to stores for transactions as mobile commerce. It’s the same distinction as you have between online marketing and ecommerce.

Which retailers come to mind who are using mobile in a unique way?

Hands down Amazon, Polo Ralph Lauren, Best Buy, Target, Gilt Groupe, eBay, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s, Dairy Queen and There are many others, but these retailers are a cut above the rest because they are not afraid to share best practices and help the retail industry grow while making life easier for consumers to shop and buy.

What mobile device do you carry in your pocket?

I receive plenty of emails each day, so the BlackBerry Tour works best for me. Texting is easy and so is going to the Web. It fits in my jacket pocket and is a sturdy device. The camera is fantastic. And I like the fact that it has a hard keypad and I don’t have to play tango with my fingers to conduct various mobile functions.

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  1. Posted January 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Mickey – I fully agree that mobile is increasingly important as its own sales channel. From my point of view, mobile is being treated in much the same way as online was treated in 1999/2000. Just like the web at first, mobile is currently viewed as complementary or a “skunk works” project as opposed to truly its own channel capable of standing on it’s own two feet (with its own P&L) requiring its own expertise in both development and marketing.

    Looking over your list of retailers, I think one new app to hit the market was overlooked and that is the J&R ( iPhone App. I find that J&R’s in-house built app is somewhat unique due to the following features:

    1. Ability to Watch Product Tours (via YouTube).
    2. Read Customer Reviews on the Product Page.
    3. Purchase from your iPhone.
    4. Share Products with friends.

    Lastly, I expected to see more in this post about the advertising opportunities for retailers around location-based iphone apps like Foursquare, Gowalla and the recently buzzing app, MyTown. I think there are some very targeted marketing opportunities for retailers to take advantage of with these new location-based marketing channels to drive in-store business.

    Great post and good luck with the upcoming Mobile Boot Camp.

  2. Posted July 24, 2010 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    I agree with JP that mobile marketing is in a similar position as internet marketing was a decade ago. If you look back over the past 10-12 years and you see how many companies and how many people internet marketing effected you really must take into consideration the effect that mobile marketing could have.

    There only 1.8 billion internet users compared to a market of over 5 billion mobile phones and that number keeps on rising and the smartphones are taking a bigger part of that market each and every day.

    I really think mobile marketing is the future and I also think Google and Apple are going to be the 2 major players in the coming years. Google bought AdMobd and Apple has iAd and both have shifted focus to mobile marketing.

  3. Posted July 31, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with you Adam. It will be a shift towards mobile marketing in the future, and it’s not a bad sign that the major players are preparing themselves :-)

  4. Posted August 2, 2010 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    I liked the section where you talked about the low hanging fruit and companies building mobile optimized websites.

    With the shear amount of people that own cellphones and the popularity of smart phones, businesses need to take a serious look at Mobile Marketing as a way to expand or at least maintain their market share.

    Google purchasing a major mobile ad network tells me to really pay attention to mobile advertising.

  5. Posted August 9, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    It is my belief that the impact of smart phone technology will be so revolutionary that psychologists will study this for years to come in order to try and shed light on how this will change human behavior. There will be amazing mobile phone ecommerce applications down the pike. Merchants using mobile phone advertising will be able to target consumers by geography, demographics, time of day, the weather, and a whole host of other variables. Consumers may one day make purchases at retail locations via their smart phones. Coupon codes stored within these applications will also discount the purchase price. The credit card, as we know it may soon become a relic of the past. Fortunes will be made by those businesses and individuals who see the trend and take action now while others play the waiting game.

  6. Posted August 12, 2010 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    I personally think that all apps should be multi platform.. I am thinking of getting the new blackberry torch.. however I have $400 of Iphone Apps I will just lose out on..

  7. Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with you Adam. It will be a shift towards mobile marketing in the future, and it’s not a bad sign that the major players are preparing themselves for it. We should to! :)

    Lets just hope they are able to drive lots of traffic to their new business’s!

  8. Posted August 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this an eye opener for me and my clients. I own a small business marketing firm in Pittsburgh and while we are getting great results with video marketing and SEO services we have not utilized mobile marketing.

    Small businesses need this and I would like to implment mobile marketing for my clients, let me know
    if there is anything I can do for your business that would be profitable for both of us.

    Call 724-263-8812 with any ideas about mobile marketing implmentation

    Thanks, Rick Hodge

    P.S. Feel free to post on my blog with any suggestions.

  9. Posted August 22, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    In My Opinion Mobile Marketing is already in the growing process and those who are making money from it know that this market is easier than Internet Market for a while.
    What i dont like from mobile marketing is that there is not free way of making money with this.

    If anyone knows a free way to make money from Mobile Marketing it would be nice to share with us. :)

    I Also Agree with Adam Horwitz that mobile marketing is on his best Moment so we have to take advantage of that.

  10. Posted August 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Mickey is right. Mobile Marketing is the future. It takes very little research to figure out that mobile marketing is very effective for those that use it. I am surprised that more companies have not embraced the use of mobile marketing in their business plans.

  11. Posted September 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Mobile is not only here to stay but the due diligence of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers) is currently paving the way for billions of new users for “Mobile”. ICANN is, right now, making it possible for all non-Latin-alphabetical languages to use the WWW. My website quotes ICANN and had an article published, via PR Web, citing these activities and concluding that three fourths of the Earth’s languages will soon be added online. Several billion of these billions of people would be hard pressed to afford a Personal Computer or Laptop and necessary costs to operate them. Mobile and the recent developments change everything dramatically. For other plausible dramatic change consider the article from Reuters by Sinead Carew, “Become your own mobile phone service provider”.

  12. Posted October 23, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I think smartphones are so popular because of their ease of connectivity and seamless applications.

    After using a smartphone I simply cant try an connect with a j2me phone.. its just excruciating and painfully slow.. I wonder if that is just going to die out.. I cant see a way out unless the connectivity issues are addressed.

  13. Posted November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Now days with the release of all the new smart phones, my personal favorite being the iphone, the idea of mobile marketing is a very simple concept. One app that i really love is the sykpe app, it is so easy to stay in contact with my list from all over the world.

  14. Posted December 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Noting that this post was written back in January and here we are in December, I would have to say that the future is NOW. Mobile continues to dominate and grow while other mediums begin their decline. Retailers specifically are reaping fantastic results from mobile and sms services, and that trend will only continue to grow as consumers become more comfortable with mobile marketing.

  15. Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    One thing that makes this easy to confirm is how many site builders are now automating the process of having a mobile version of your site. Even does this.

    Here’s something interesting to think about, because mobile commerce doesn’t appeal to me as a customer … yet. Take a look at I’ve got one and have only used it once. But imagine if you couldn’t just TAKE payments with that (attached to your smart phone). Imagine being able to MAKE payments online by swiping. And if it were secure, having all your billing, shipping … blah blah blah … build into your card so that you could add things to a cart, swipe, and you were done. This would make it far, far easier to shop on a mobile phone.

  16. Posted January 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Mobile is the way of the future. I cant remember the last time I did a search for a local business from my home computer. I have a droid x and when im on the fly it is great to have the ability to enter in the search item and have it take me directly to the Google Places page giving directions, phone number and so on. It is truly the way of the future. The transition to the mobile internet is growing quickly. I started my marketing firm based on this need and are helping local business tap in to this new technology. I appreciate being able to contribute and look forward to reading more about this revolutionary marketing technology. Thanks!

    Jake Shelton Rockstar Analytics

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Mobile: It’s Here and It’s Real | Blog on January 28, 2010 at 9:53 am

    [...] learn more, the NRF recently interviewed Mickey Alam Kahn about where mobile is today in regards to retail and where it is headed.  This will definitely [...]

  2. By Why Are You Going To Innovate? | Blog on April 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    [...] For members, the price is only $295 and I guarantee it will be money well spent.  You can read an interview with Mickey Alam Kahn from Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily who is our content provider for the boot [...]

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