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Can small to midsize retailers join the mobile party?

By Michael Moores

In the last 18 months, we have seen considerable interest from small and mid-market retailers to have a mobile presence. Yet a study we conducted earlier this year found that only 17 percent had any type of mobile Web site. So, where is the disconnect?

Many retailers today know mobile is exploding, but they really do not know the actual statistics behind the growth.

It is expected that more than half of those going online will do so from their phones or mobile devices, according to projections from Gartner, Google Mobile and Cisco.

More than two-thirds of those people expect the site to load as fast or faster than their desktops, and more than half will not recommend a site if they have a bad mobile experience, per Compuware.

Whether small and midsized retailers realize it or not, they are already part of the mobile commerce party.

Customers and prospective customers are hitting sites all the time from mobile devices. As the statistics above demonstrate, visitors do not discriminate based on a retailer’s mobile strategy. So, not having a strategy is a strategy – just a bad one.

Why are there so few?
The lack of participation from small and mid-market retailers is broken down into three categories:

Underestimated impact: Many retailers, especially those with traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, do not fully understand the effect this has and will continue to have in the near future.

As much as 90 percent of smartphone users search for local business and more than half of them interact in some way with that business by calling or visiting the store. Other business do not see how their customers would use or benefit by a mobile site, according to Google.

ROI: Those who do see and understand the mobile space are struggling with seeing or calculating a return.

With sophisticated analytical tools and the ability to integrate a site with a back office system or point-of-sale manager, site owners are given incredible visibility into traffic sources.

Additionally, many organizations are failing to understand that traditional strategies may not necessarily be the best ones, any more.

Fear of the unknown: Once we speak to retailers and demonstrate the value of a mobile strategy, or, when customers are introduced to us looking for help, the biggest challenge they face boils down to one simple question: “Where do we start?”

Yet this leads to multiple other questions to consider: Who in the organization should own it? Who creates the strategy? Where do I go to learn more about mobile initiatives? What partner do I have design and implement? Should it be my Web developers, my in-house IT staff, my marketing firm?

Moreover, what is the difference between a mobile site and a mobile application? Will my current platform support a mobile technology?

Change is scary, especially when it is not free, and the prospect of a mobile initiative can be daunting.

Overcoming the challenges
The reality is that small and mid-market retailers often let technology or the day-to-day pains of business drive their businesses.

As businesses grow and adopt new trends such as mobile, it is key to devise a well thought-out strategy that enhances and drives business value.

If you are a small or mid-market retailer, here is how to implement a strong mobile strategy.

As with any customer facing initiative, start with understanding your target audience and how they are leveraging mobile technology in their everyday lives.

Work to determine how to integrate your mobile strategy to simplify and streamline you audience’s experiences.

Understand how a mobile strategy creates value in their lives and their social networks. Note: it can be done, irrespective of industry, business type or who your end-customers are.

There are many areas where business-to-business customers are creating value with a mobile strategy.

Second, identify an owner of your mobile strategy and recognize that this is critical for success.

In addition to knowing who your customers are, this person should be knowledgeable with all aspects of an online channel including technology platforms, Web marketing, social marketing and the user experience.

If you do not have this person, find a solution delivery partner that can bring this experience to your organization.

Where is the market going?
Research shows nearly three-quarters of all smartphone users have compared pricing via their smartphones and a large portion of those have read reviews and made purchases, per Lightspeed Research and Google.

Furthermore, it is estimated that the sales of mobile devices will be more than double that of PC sales by 2015.

If retailers do not have a mobile strategy soon, regardless of their size, they will not be around for the next party.

Michael Moores is director of Briteskies LLC, Cleveland, OH. Reach him at [email protected].