American Marketer


Mobile brings online shopping back into the aisle

October 29, 2012

Scott Townsend is director of marketing at Urban Airship


By Scott Townsend

I was lucky enough to attend Mobile Shopping Fall in Austin, TX, last week along with a group of savvy retailers that are navigating the new mobile reality.

While the Web initially took shopping outside of stores, mobile is bringing online shopping back into the aisle. And while some still view mobile as an adversary due to showrooming, most are taking a proactive approach to dealing with this new reality and finding the opportunity in mobile to create new conveniences and better shopping experiences.

Shape of things to come

Mobile is shaping consumers’ minds and behavior, creating new expectations of convenience and an increased desire for cohesive cross-channel and multi-device shopping experiences.

The smartest marketers are working hard to figure out how to serve each customer best, regardless of channel, with an eye toward the opportunity of being in the palm of their most loyal customers’ hands throughout their daily lives.

The mobile opportunity does not come without its challenges.

Retailers are struggling to keep up with multiple mobile operating systems and screen sizes. But the larger challenge is how to connect the dots on every shopper’s individual, non-linear shopping path.

Retailers have a big challenge to keep track of shoppers as they bounce from digital to television to print to email to physical stores in any, and every, order imaginable.

The retail experience must go beyond omni-channel marketing to understand the customers, the business and the brand to be contextually relevant.

A large topic of debate was HTML5 versus native apps.

Many retailers see more traffic to their HTML5 sites, which are often more comfortable given similarities with existing Web sites.

However, those retailers that have created applications are seeing higher levels of loyalty and engagement.

Stephen Gandee from said that 10 percent of his users make up half of his mobile page views, and that those are app users.

With the need for speed and responsive design, HTML5 can slow down load times and cause users to lose patience in seconds.

Feed the speed
Retailers agreed that a key benefit to apps is speed, along with the ability to take advantage of native capabilities of the device, including Apple’s Passbook, geo-targeting and push notifications.

The interactivity that apps offer through these features are seen as key contributors to building stronger customer relationships.

Kevin Diamond of Hautelook spoke about using push notifications for transactional messages, where 90 percent of users read them and click-through rates are off the charts.

Delegates from Kohl’s and CBS Interactive also mentioned that they see increases in app opens, engagement and loyalty to the brand from their push messaging strategies as well.

Tim McCauly of Walgreens and Nick Schenck of the Houston Texans both see apps as a large portion of their brands’ mobile experience and described the amount of effort that they go through to acquire more loyal app users.

Methods span QR codes in-store and in ads, social media, email campaigns, SMS campaigns, GetJar’s app store and sharing positive user comments.

Retailers are piloting new programs as well, experimenting with mobile self-service checkouts, interactive iPad-powered counters, in-store mapping, virtual mirrors and virtual shelves using augmented reality and leveraging NFC for more than payments including putting NFC chips in merchandise to create digital experiences within actual merchandise.

Empowering retail staff with tablets is also enabling better in-store service as associates can provide shoppers with additional information and check inventory.

Retailers are hungry to better serve shoppers and create great experiences by understanding each user’s ever-changing preferences, location and buying intent.

Many retailers are using mobile in new ways to remove friction from the buying process, building and rewarding loyalty with discounts, streamlined transactions and exceptional service experiences.

AS WE ARE quickly propelled into the mobile-everywhere era, we must all think mobile-first, but also realize that it is not the technology that is mobile, it is your customers, as was highlighted at the event by Mobile Commerce Daily editor in chief Mickey Alam Khan.

Every retailer is going to have to figure out how to make mobile work for them in and out of the store, and perhaps more so than any other channel before, it is through adopting a customer-first mindset.

Scott Townsend is director of marketing at Urban Airship, a Portland, OR-based provider of push messaging services. Reach him at