The 'Big Mobile Lie' Is Not the Whole Story

Mobile Is Weak for In-Store Buying, but Paired With Social It Could Soar for Sales Online and Off

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A recent commentary in Ad Age headlined "The Big Mobile Lie" argued that mobile devices are not driving purchases as much as many people think. Statistics on in-store mobile use, as well as the ineffectiveness of QR codes, show that most companies have failed to create a useful mobile experience for the brick-and-mortar customer, the author said.

This is all true. But it is shortsighted to focus on mobile's failure to take off in the aisles. Getting sales via mobile when customers are already in the store is not the best use of this technology anyway; its greatest potential is to attract customers for future sales, both online and off.

Today's mobile e-commerce is where the automobile industry was in the early 1900s, in its infancy. Most people weren't driving cars before the Model-T, though the automobile had been around for more than 30 years. It took Henry Ford's rethinking of production to make the automobile available and affordable for a mass market. Along it came, and off we went into a high-speed revolution. The approaching wave in mobile is beyond evident.

Global shipments of smartphones outpaced computers years ago. Increasingly, customers are using mobile devices to research, rate and engage with online retailers. And with social media connecting mobile users constantly to their friends and family, retailers must consider a targeted mobile and social strategy.

Thinking about what helps customers in the fastest and most efficient manner, both inside and outside the store, is key to making the best use of mobile for enhancing the customer relationship and encouraging follow-up sales. One easy, cost-efficient service is to give consumers information via mobile. We can make frequently asked questions readily answerable; this will help especially while a customer is in the store. Another option is to provide peer-to-peer support, where mobile users can ask questions and get answers from others at any time.

We can provide easy access to customer service, ideally with one click. Click-to-chat is not a trend in the mobile environment, as it is on many traditional retail websites. But if the customer already has a phone in his or her hand, why not supply an immediate solution?

Loyalty programs are also ripe for pairing with mobile. In the past, the goal of these programs was to give customers points based on what they had bought (if they had happily traded personal information for a loyalty card), and assign customers a loyalty status based on their long-term spending potential.

But with mobile and social, we need to consider the social influence, or "social clout" of the customer. Retailers need to understand how to reward more loyalty points to people who create a networking effect, sharing and promoting products to others in their social circles.

Starbucks, for example, has signed up with Foursquare, which assigns a title of "mayor" to the person who has checked in the most at a location via mobile. Starbucks then provides coupons to these mayors. This breeds easy competition. If frequent visitors to certain Starbucks know they will get an immediate reward on their smartphone if they check in more often and "dethrone" the current mayor, why wouldn't they? This "gamification" approach is a natural fit for retailers to engage customers via mobile and get an easy post-purchase engagement win, creating loyalty and driving future sales.

Word-of-mouth was a powerful form of advertising before the Internet. Now, to build advocacy, marketers need to engage as well with its faster, hipper offspring, "word-of-text." Tasti D-Lite frozen yogurt is an example. It offers a simple loyalty reward card, but adds extra points to users when they use it and tell their friends through Twitter.

Or consider a wedding-gift registry. A retailer can encourage a registering couple to talk about their choices with their entire social network, thus becoming advocates. Their friends and family can view the registry list on an iPad that deletes items as they're purchased, eliminating the need for the now-married couple to have to return duplicate gifts.

Just as in the past, support, loyalty and advocacy will drive customers' post-purchase engagement. While they may not all click "add to cart" directly from their smartphone, a combined mobile and social strategy will be essential to competing in the marketing landscape to come.

Roopesh Nair is VP for e-commerce at Acquity Group.

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