In many ways, features developed for online stores are now augmenting the traditional in-store shopping experience.
by David Dorf, October 2010
The United Nations estimates about 60 percent of the world’s population has access to a mobile communications device. More Americans have a mobile phone than own a credit card, and an increasing number of those are smartphones capable of Internet access. This proliferation is so unlike that of any other modern-day consumer technology that it is difficult to fully measure the impact on consumers and the industries that serve them.
With what is effectively a computer in the palm of their hands, consumers are finding new ways to do everything from banking to managing healthcare and household services. Shopping is a natural fit, and the retail industry has emerged as a front line for innovation in mobile applications. The mobile commerce revolution has changed almost every aspect of the retail business, from the way that we think about customer relationships to the way that we manage inventory and complete transactions.
Innovations at Leading Retailers
Leading brands are experimenting and learning at a rapid pace. Urban Outfitters CEO Glen Senk is among the innovators. Senk is investing in mobile applications for both shoppers and in-store staff to solve a long-time problem for retailers — the long lines that happen when holiday crowds peak, but there is no space to add additional cash registers. Building on top of its Oracle Retail Point-of-Service (POS), Urban Outfitters is adding mobile POS capabilities to handle increased customer volume. Based on Apple iPod Touch hardware and similar to what’s used in Apple stores, Urban Outfitters will arm additional employees with mobile checkout and decrease the wait for customers. Other major retailers are planning similar solutions with their Oracle Retail Point-of-Service implementations.
There are many examples of retailers enhancing the customer’s shopping experience with location-specific applications. Macy’s is partnering with shopkick to make promotional offers to shoppers based on the department in which they are standing. Barnes & Noble allows customers to take a picture of a book cover with their phone and gain access to detailed information about the book. The North Face partners with Placecast to entice nearby shoppers into their stores with promotions via texting (SMS). Meijer helps customers find products by displaying a store map on their phone that directs them to the correct aisle. Wal-Mart helps shoppers determine the best size TV for a given room based on a picture taken with their phone.
Steps to a Successful Mobile Strategy
These retailers are leading the mobile revolution, one application at a time. As they do, some fundamental guidelines are being established that will help to shape the next initiatives:
The mobile strategy must employ all business groups. For retail, mobile commerce cannot be governed by marketing, e-commerce, or store operations. It needs to be bigger than all three, and CEO leadership will help to prevent a siloed approach.
Mobile is the omni-channel for customers. For consumers, mobile phones bridge the in-store and online experience. Retailers must merchandise and serve consumers with a unified, or omni-channel, strategy rather than continuing to operate a multi-channel business.
Mobile applications must offer consumers something beyond just a shopping assistant. They need to enhance the consumers’ lifestyle with features not found elsewhere -- a tall order, indeed.
As retailers progress, what we achieve will help to shape initiatives here and in other industries. The mobile revolution is here, and it will redefine more than just retail.
David Dorf is senior director of Technology Strategy, Oracle Retail at Oracle.