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 Shop.org and RAMA prepare for the inaugural Mobile Boot Camp in San Francisco, we reached out to mobile retail expert Mickey Alam Khan, the editor-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.
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 1800Flowers.com. 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.