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Best Buy gets it: Mobile is the new portable store

The Mobile Boot Camp in San Francisco March 2 and the 2nd Mobile Marketing Day in New York March 4, both co-hosted by this publication’s parent, yielded ample evidence in attendance numbers, questions asked and networking conducted that mobile is being taken seriously at all decision-making levels. The final salute to the medium came when Mobile Boot Camp speaker and Best Buy interactive executive, the ebullient Tracy Benson, cast her vote in mobile’s corner.

“Mobile is mainstream – it’s not niche,” Ms. Benson told an audience that included executives from Walmart, Costco, Dell, Victoria’s Secret and SAP. “If the mobile Internet is not mainstream today, set your timer for six to eight months – it’ll be mainstream.”

Outlining Best Buy’s initiatives in mobile across several sessions that were covered in this publication, Ms. Benson emphasized that the customer was front and center of all efforts. That message was not lost at the San Francisco event, co-hosted with the National Retail Federation.

Portable store
Ms. Benson’s goal is to make Best Buy part of the portable network – “Mobile is the new portable store” – and win locally as mobile bridges online and offline marketing and commerce.

“We want to bring Best Buy experiences to our customers rather than have our customers come to us,” Ms. Benson said.

The retail industry needs more Tracy Bensons. Without forward-thinking executives such as her, mobile’s integration with other channels will not move at the speed it deserves. Nor will customer interests be served well.

Meanwhile, it was also clear from the questions at the legal dos and don’ts session at Mobile Marketing Day in New York – co-hosted with the Direct Marketing Association – that marketers and retailers continue to have concerns over interpretation of mobile marketing law.

Complete legal clarity will evade marketers as various law enforcement agencies take a piecemeal approach to addressing mobile marketing infractions and remedies.

But it bears repeating what the legal session speakers said: given the reach of the Internet on mobile, the same laws that apply to online now clearly can extend to mobile.

Add to that the personal nature of the mobile phone and the privacy issues that come along with it and marketers and retailers have to ensure that a lawyer signs off on almost every mobile initiative about to launch. Better safe than sorry.

Overall, last week – and the week before, where this writer was a speaker at eTail West in Palm Desert, CA – proved that retailers and marketers now get the urgency of improving Web site, application and SMS experiences on mobile phones.

Budget for growth
One struggle that most retailers about to enter the mobile space have is allocation of funds. When asked the question by this writer, most executives on the concluding panel at the Mobile Boot Camp offered percentages.

However, footwear retailer Steve Madden’s ecommerce boss, Andrew Coven, came to the rescue. Based on his own experience with mobile commerce, he offered the estimate of about $150,000 per year – excluding salary costs but including platform expenses.

So that number, when combined with a dedicated couple of executives and other factors thrown in such as marketing and advertising, should yield a decent ballpark estimate for retailers with revenue of $50 million to $100 million, or even lower than that band: earmark $500,000 for a reasonably decent mobile commerce operation to kick things off in the first year.

Of course, many will dispute that number, but someone has to plant a flag at the summit for others to make their way to the top.

While not tilting one way or the other, common sense would dictate that mobile virgins should work with third-party platforms until the mobile commerce revenue generated calls for in-house handling.

Based on the zeitgeist, this year is clearly one that belongs to mobile commerce. This publication’s parent will continue to roll out events, webinars and offerings in the next few months geared to helping marketers and retailers make the right customer-focused mobile decisions.

Indeed, Best Buy’s Ms. Benson’s words continue to ring in these ears.

“If you’re not thinking about mobile, your customers are,” she said.