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Google exec: Sephora, eBay really embrace mobile across multiple tactics

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A Google panelist speaking on a Mobile Commerce Daily webinar yesterday said that eBay and Sephora come to mind as the retailers that took full advantage of mobile commerce during the 2011 holiday season.

The Mobile Commerce Daily Webinar titled, “Holiday Mobile Commerce: Lessons Learned for Future Holiday Efforts was sponsored by Kony Solutions. Giselle Tsirulnik, deputy managing editor at Mobile Commerce Daily moderated.

 “Sephora and eBay both come to mind as marketers who really embrace mobile across multiple tactics,” said Erin O’Neil Schultz, head of industry, retail, at Google, Mountain View, CA.

“EBay used their offline campaign, ‘If it’s on your mind it’s on eBay,’ to message how easy eBay Mobile is anytime you need it,” she said.

“Sephora’s overall mobile strategy was a great example of what is possible.  Sephora has such a fantastically rich experience across their mobile site with things like GPS-enabled store locators, shopping list creators, order/history tracking and mobile exclusive offers.”

The biggest surprises
Some of the big trends for the 2011 holiday season were a significant jump in the number of shoppers willing to complete a transaction via mobile, the rise of tablets and a jump in both mobile shopping activities.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2011 holiday season was the aggressive stance that Amazon took on price comparisons by introducing an app that lets shoppers scan bar codes in store to check what a particular item costs as Amazon.

“With the price checkup app, Amazon really threw down the gauntlet,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner, RSR Research, Miami.

“Any time you have retailers screaming for boycotts, you know you have hit them where it hurts,” she said.

“This was the one really aggressive move for the holiday season that I saw.”

Getting it right
From a basic standpoint, simply having a mobile presence for the 2011 holiday was a big improvement for many retailers over 2010.

Tablets were a big focus of discussion during the webinar as one of the ways the some retailers really excelled in mobile during the 2011 holiday season.

“The retailers and brands who had a tablet strategy out there this holiday season really got something right that was differentiating them from others in the field,” Ms. Baird said. “This enabled them to take advantage of the cream of the consumer crop.

Jumping into mobile with an app, mobile-optimized site or SMS program was an important step forward for many retailers that did not have a mobile strategy in 2010.

Even if retailers do not know if mobile is driving incremental sales, they are recognizing that they need to be here.

There was also better coordination, with retailers’ mobile display buys, mobile search and landing pages synced with what consumers were seeing in digital, on radio, on TV.

“There is clearly a better understanding that mobile is a touch point that must be considered from day zero when doing a large campaign — particularly for the holidays,” said Jason Newport, senior vice president of mobile strategy, Carat, New York.

Taking full advantage
Best Buy, Macy’s, Starbucks, eBay, Sephora, JCPenney and Amazon were all pointed to by speakers as examples of retailers with strong  mobile strategies for the 2011 holiday period.

For example, Best Buy fully deployed QR codes across its properties for the first time while Macy’s and Starbucks were aggressive on the SMS front.

“For Best Buy, it will be interesting to see if the QR codes at the shelf drove sales in the stores,” RSR Research’s Ms. Baird said.

“Macy’s and Starbuck’s campaigns were very much oriented toward driving people to the store and not about driving to a mobile channel, as they may have been in the past,” she said.

EBay did a good job of using offline channels to drive use of its mobile offerings, with messaging for eBay Mobile appearing in TV ads and out-of-home marketing efforts.

Sephora offers an example of best-in-class mobile Web and apps experiences with features such as GPS-enabled store locators, shopping list creators and mobile exclusive offers.

“EBay is really trying to drive home the message that if you want it, it is on eBay,” Google’s Ms. O’Neil Schultz said.

“Sephora has done a really great job of giving solid rich experiences on mobile sites and apps,” she said.  

Popular holiday mobile strategies
Linking mobile sites and apps to the latest inventory information was one way retailers such as Target used mobile effectively to give shoppers the information they want.

Consumers are increasingly using mobile to find an item they are interested when they do not see on the shelves in a store.  

“When I was out and about over the Black Friday weekend, it was fascinating to see the number of shoppers who, when they did not find what they wanted at the shelf, pulled out their mobile phone,” RSR Research’s Ms. Baird said. “It is amazing how behavior has changed so quickly.

“If you did not have your inventory availability linked to your mobile site, you are missing out on opportunities to capture those sales,” she said.

“As much as Target had trouble with its Web site, it did a good job of responding quickly when stock was low on an item and making this information visible in its digital channels.”

Retailers also took advantage of location-based strategies, using mobile to target users with a few miles of a specific location.

Some retailers also got frequency right when it came to sending out SMS text messages. For example, Starbucks had a 12 days of deals campaign that let users know upfront how many messages to expect.

“As long as you are explicit as to what frequency consumers can expect from you and you stick to it, you are ok,” Ms. Baird said.

Linking mobile with TV was also an effective strategy used by some retailers.

Google worked with a retailer who took over a network with its advertising between 5 am and 10 am on one of the biggest shopping days. The retailer had over 48 million impressions in the span of five hours and over 2 percent of smartphone users clicked over to the store while 6 percent of tablet users clicked to the store.

Simplifying the mobile experience was another important strategy that worked for retailers in 2011.  

Some of the ways that retailers accomplished this include simpler text message calls-to-action, mobile-optimized Web sites and simplified checkout processes in native apps.

“Having a very easy experience on the mobile Web is important,” said Chris Dean, director of business development, Kony Solutions, Orlando, FL. “Folks that prefer to go through the Web site versus an app want a simple experience, they want to check out easily.

“If they are sitting in front of a couch, they want something that is convenient,” he said.

Missed opportunities
The biggest missed opportunity was not getting the mobile sale either because a retailer did not have a mobile presence, it did not have a mobile search strategy in place to support that presence or the mobile experience did not meet consumers’ expectations.

For some categories, 20 percent of searches are coming from mobile, according to Google’s Ms. O’Neil Schultz. If these consumers have a bad mobile experience, not only has the retailer lost the sale but it has also tarnished the brand.

“We found in some instances retailers want to have completely different strategies for tablets because they convert higher,” Ms. O’Neil Schultz said. “We are seeing more and more marketers do this.”

Important lessons
One of the biggest lessons from the 2011 holiday season is the need to understand how consumer behavior is different across different devices, from smartphones to features to tablets.

“What consumers do on a tablet versus a smartphone became much more clear last year,” Carat’s Mr. Newport said.

“Continuing to monitor what consumers device usage habits are will be critical to designing optimized experiences on each unique device,” he said.  

Best practices
Retailers need to make sure they are cross promoting their mobile capabilities in other channels.

It is also important to understand the need to simplify the customer experience no matter what screen consumers are sitting in front of.

Retailers are starting to take a more integrated in how they approach how mobile plays into various touch points and need to continue on that route.

“I still see this holiday season as the dress rehearsal for next year,” RSR Research’s Ms. Baird said.

“Two thousand and eleven put mobile on the radar for a lot of brands,” she said. “In 2012, we will see what these companies can really do with mobile.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York