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Retail and mobile: Where to start

The 2009 consumer is way ahead of any national retailer’s marketing department.  The consumer is leveraging her phone as a mobile mouse to click, search and explore in the mall, in the aisle.

The retail chief marketing officer is looking for some new-fangled, high-tech way of engaging with this itinerate shopper. The truth is that the marketing department is chasing shadows.

Instead of focusing on consumers and how they are leveraging mobile in their stores, retail CMOs are investigating widgets and applications that have little to no reach or frequency in their consumer base.

There are two simple things that I would suggest to the retail or manufacturer CMO.

Learn from history
Take a Google back into the ’90s and look at the then-emerging trends on the Internet. History tends to repeat itself.

Then, the Web browser was becoming standard on the desktop in the mid-1990s. During this period of enormous growth, businesses entering the Internet arena scrambled to find consumer models that worked.

Many companies were lured into thinking that developing applications on the desktop would give them market share and consumer mindshare. They did neither.

The desktop become too fragmented and difficult to navigate. As the PC browser matured and the speed of the Internet pipe increased, server-side solutions that functioned inside the browser – ASP applications – became standard fare.

Isolated in the browser, these in-browser solutions need a communication channel to engage and reengage the subscriber. ASP applications used email as this retention tool.

We are presently reinventing the wheel with mobile.

With the smartphone revolution, applications are the rage. “I-want-one-too” CEOs are running to their agencies and IT departments and developing applications that only 5 percent of consumers are returning to after a lonely month on the phonetop.

So what are mobile consumers using?

Learn from your consumer
Take an undercover trip to your local store, peer through your security cameras and watch consumers. They are doing two things in your aisles: using their phones to browse as well as to text.

Are consumers opening the browser to find tips and information to help with their shopping experience? Are they messaging home for the shopping list? Possibly.

But shoppers are certainly not scanning 2D codes with their phones. They are not opening the security on their Bluetooth settings for inbound offers. They are not all downloading your application to their phone.

The consumer’s mobile and online toolset is similar – she is both using her browser and messaging as the first data-click. Focus on these channels.

These mobile channels are so powerful because they are both standard on any phone nationally, the consumer is already onboard and they are proximate to purchase intent and point of sale.

The CMO should start where the consumer is. So what is your text CRM strategy? What is your mobile Web strategy?

Solve these and you have the ultimate last-mile retail solution.

Gary Schwartz is president/CEO of Impact Mobile Inc., Toronto. Reach him at [email protected].