October 1st, 2013 by Sarah Sluis

Consumers didn’t need retailer-created apps to figure out how to check prices on their phone while they’re in a brick-and-mortar store. They figured out on their own that the best way to find out if a dress fits right isn’t by asking an associate, but texting a picture to Mom. Reading online product reviews about an item that’s right in front of your? Again, the mobile phone is gaining ground. One out of three people prefer checking their phone to asking an associate for help, noted PointInside CEO Todd Sherman, and that’s an opportunity for mobile retailers. On Monday, Mobile Boot Camp kicked off the Shop.org Annual Summit. Customers are using mobile to make their shopping decisions, and retailers have the opportunity to guide and mold this online behavior through their own mobile initiatives.  About a hundred representatives from retailers filled a conference room in McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois to kick off the conference, which will run from September 30-October 2.

The mix of speakers at the Mobile Boot Camp rotated between observation and action. Some speakers documented current mobile and tablet usage, while other identified ways to improve the store experience both for customers and sales associates. Many of the mobile opportunities offer incremental improvements in a shopper’s experience that add up to big results in an industry that gets excited about A/B Tests that give them a 2% lift in conversions. By giving away WiFi, for example, a retailer makes it easier for a consumer to make decisions about a purchase socially, while also creating an opportunity to message the user with an offer. Sherman, who has created mobile shopping experiences for Midwest supermarket Meijer, explained how having a “store mode” can greatly improve a customer’s experience and lift sales. Product locators and in-store maps make it easier for a customer to find items, and shoppers like the app for the value it provides. One of the figures he touted was that coupon redemption among those with in-store apps is 16 times that of a non-mobile user.

A presentation from the CTO of the Brazilian retailer Netshoes, Rodrigo Nasser, highlighted cultural differences in mobile adoption. Brazil has high rates of Internet usage, but battles with slow speeds and the high cost of smartphones. An ecommerce disaster in Christmas 2010, which resulted in consumers waiting to receive their purchases for months, has left many online shoppers wary. They now prefer a good user experience and prompt service, making free shipping and low prices not quite as important.  Once a brick-and-mortar store that now is completely online, Netshoes accounts for a third of global sales for both Nike and Adidas, despite operating in just three countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. They have implemented technology that encourages showrooming in order to compete with brick-and-mortar stores. Nasser described how the company set a radius of one kilometer around certain shopping centers. If a consumer checked the price of a shoe they saw online, Netshoes would offer them a discount based on the phone’s geolocation. Another Netshoes mobile feature allows smartphone users to take a picture of a sneaker they like, which the store will match up with one in stock with 95% accuracy. Many of the photos are surreptitiously taken of people on the street, he noted, as people try to find out about their shoes without the person knowing.

Saks Fifth Avenue has been using tablets and smartphones both to reach customers on their phones and to empower its sales associates. Saks associates are sophisticated salespeople who earn sizeable commissions from the luxury merchandise purchased by their customers. With one tablet for roughly every two associates, custom-loaded iPads help on-the-floor sales teams at every point of the sales process. VP of Web Operations Roger Scholl and Director of Product Management and Jordan Lustig described how associates can email customers photos of items they might like. Pre-existing outside apps proved extremely useful. Google Translate, for examples, has aided New York City associates meet the needs of a foreign customers. Managers and associates alike can use the tablets to track their key performance indicators (KPIs), tracking how their sales are year-over-year as well as their current totals. They emphasized the importance of not overestimating the technical abilities of associates, and recognizing that there may be internal resistance to change.

The next wave of mobile ecommerce is filled with a diversity of opportunities. With options ranging from Netshoes’ geo-informed deals to high-end personalized experiences facilitated by PointInside and Saks, mobile solutions for retailers allows them to employ different tactics to engage their customers and increase mobile sales.

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