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Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters goes from SMS to mobile commerce

The Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters Direct division is targeting its urban-minded customer set of men and women ages 18-30 for its mobile commerce site at It is relying on Acuity Mobile’s eMAP platform to run its U.O. TXT and mobile commerce operations.

“Urban Outfitters customers are the mobile generation – they use the mobile medium as their primary communication and information source,” said Alan Sultan, founder and president of Acuity Mobile, Greenbelt, MD. “This provides Urban with a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation.” 

In addition to its eponymous brand, Urban Outfitters is also known for its Anthropologie and Free People retail stores.

The Urban Outfitters mobile site sells a mix of funky products from brands such as Betsey Johnson, Calvin Klein, MinkPink, BDG and Silence & Noise, including merchandise sold via its wired Web site, catalogs and in 144 stores nationwide and in Canada and Europe.

Acuity Mobile’s eMAP platform will support Urban Outfitters’ SMS alert signups program and the mobile commerce site with shop-and-buy, tracking and delivery functionality.

In this Q&A, Acuity Mobile’s Mr. Sultan offers insight into Urban Outfitters’ mobile game-plan and how his technology will enable the retailer to extend its retail presence.

What does Acuity offer Urban Outfitters in mobile that it couldn’t get elsewhere?
Urban Outfitters went through an extensive review process to find a vendor who could manage their entire mobile presence across all devices, carriers and operating systems. They did not want to have separate vendors for iPhone, Blackberry, SMS and WAP. 

Urban was also looking for a provider who fundamentally understands how mobile marketing and mobile commerce contribute to a true multichannel strategy. They wanted to ensure that their Web and mobile offerings were consistent and targeted to each customer interests.

What is Urban Outfitters’ thinking here with this mobile effort?
Urban Outfitters customers are the mobile generation – they use the mobile medium as their primary communication and information source. This provides Urban with a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation. 

Urban was looking to provide all the content and community that their [wired] Web site provides, and create a mobile experience which would engage customers on an ongoing basis and drive mobile commerce revenue.  

Who is the target for this effort?
The Acuity eMAP platform manages Urban’s entire mobile presence, so anyone with a mobile device, on any carrier, with any handset, can take advantage of this program.

Will consumers shop and buy clothes through a mobile phone?
The simple answer is, yes. We’ve seen a tremendous response so far. It’s about really understanding who the consumer is, what their interests are and tailoring the interaction on the device to make it simple and engaging to browse and buy. 

At the core of the Acuity platform is a preference engine that ensures users see products and content that is relevant to him or her. We call this Spot Relevance. 

In its simplest form, it’s about utilizing in real time any loyalty, location or consumer data together with very sophisticated content filtering, via transcoding, RSS feeds and other content aggregation methods to present the right product to the right person at a time and place where the offer can be acted on.

Are you seeing more retailers go mobile? Why?
Yes, retail is our fastest growing vertical right now. It’s a matter of how to tap mobile, not if. 

In this market, retailers must find new ways to engage their customers.

Establishing a conversation with their customers on their mobile device is an ideal way to raise a retailer’s profile in the market and differentiate their products. The fact that mobile generally is low cost to get started and is inherently meterable makes it an easy decision.

What will the Urban Outfitters’ mobile site offer?
Urban is very concerned about ensuring continuity for their customers across all mediums.

Acuity worked with Urban to develop an innovative, automated, approach to selectively feed their Web content into the eMAP platform. EMAP then configures and delivers the products and content in a manner which takes advantage of the personal nature of each consumer’s mobile device. 

By leveraging the same content database as the [wired] Web site, we ensure that Urban provides a true multichannel solution that minimizes their content maintenance costs and provides a consistent experience for the consumer. Their really is no better way to do it.

What is the retailer’s SMS program meant to do?
Urban understands the ubiquity of SMS and leverages it to make consumers aware of special offers and events that are directly of interest to that particular individual. 

These interactions are designed to incentivize customers to click over to their WAP site to complete a mobile commerce transaction. 

I think this is a classic example of mobile customer engagement—here are the steps: First, utilizing SMS to drive opt-in. Next, leading to regular engagement and, ultimately, WAP based mobile commerce.

So what challenge are you helping Urban Outfitters address?
Urban wanted to make sure that all mobile channels were managed under a single platform and worked together. They did not want a fragmented solution tied to one device or channel or the other.

They also wanted an enterprise solution that would be simple and easy for their marketing staff to operate on an ongoing basis. Of course, the user experience had to be simple as well.