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Evaluating mobile calls-to-action at point of purchase

By Bryce Marshall

A shopper using a mobile device to help make in-store purchase decisions is no longer an emerging behavior. It is established behavior.

Motorola recently released a study conducted during the 2009 holiday shopping season finding that 51.4 percent of shoppers surveyed used their mobile phone for shopping activities within the previous two weeks. Add Generation Y shoppers and the number spikes to 64 percent.

For retailers and manufacturers there are enormous opportunities to influence purchase decisions at the point-of-retail through mobile interactions. As the Motorola study demonstrates, consumers want and expect these interactions.

Impacting a purchase decision is not rocket science. Shoppers are already looking for consumer-friendly access to coupons and discounts, product information or feature comparisons, product ratings, and customer reviews.

The genius is in the delivery. First, make value available and accessible on mobile platforms, primarily in the form of mobile-friendly Web pages or sites. Most brands already have this content – it just needs to be optimized.

Once the content is optimized for mobile, brands need to create the best retail call-to-action possible to get shoppers to the content quickly and consistently.

Here are the most common mobile calls-to-action that can be presented at the point-of-retail:

Enter URL in mobile browser
Invite shoppers to open their smartphone’s browser and type a URL to access mobile-friendly Web content.

• Easily understood by a broad base of consumers
• It is simple and cost effective to create the Web content with no additional technology or cost.

• Mobile is not a great platform for character entry. The more characters are necessary for the user to type, the more users will commit errors, or quit – or both.


If simplicity and cost are the primary consideration, deploy with dedicated URLs first, but be ready to expand into SMS or QR codes.

Texting keyword to short code
The call-to-action is for a user to text a specific key word to a 5- or 6-digit short code. The auto-reply text message includes a link to the Web content – or can include a discount code in the body of the text message.

• Texting is nearly ubiquitous across a very broad consumer base due to such phenomena as the “American Idol” television show. More people are more comfortable with texting.
• Using unique key words means marketers can send dedicated links to product-specific content.

• Bi-directional SMS requires additional technology and more cost.
• Carrier involvement is necessary even though carriers are notorious about not working at the speed of digital marketers.


Consumers are most comfortable with text messaging, therefore the potential audience reach may compensate for the additional cost.

Scan a “QR” or 2D code
While far less common in North America today than in Europe or Southeast Asia, the opportunities with “QR” or 2D codes are promising. Assuming the user has the correct software/application downloaded already, the call-to-action is intoxicatingly simple: Point and click.

• By far the simplest action and most user-friendly experience – for those in the know.
• Delivers a “wow” factor that can influence brand and product perceptions (think technology, fashion and luxury goods).

• Software/application has to be downloaded to the mobile device to complete the action. If the user has not already done this, the call-to-action becomes cumbersome.
• The technology is familiar to only a small subset of North American consumers.


Not the right technology for mass-marketers, right now. But some brands can have great success with this approach today.