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Mobile is key driver in back-to-school retail success

Target’s back-to-school themed mobile site

Mobile has played a big role in back-to-school initiatives over the past few years. However, having a single-strategy approach is no longer enough.

Marketers must take-on a multichannel approach to see retail success. Here is a look at how retailers need to position themselves on mobile for this upcoming back-to-school season.

“Mobile will be an extremely influential driver of back-to-school retail success on a number of fronts,” said Scott Forshay, mobile and emerging technologies strategist for Acquity Group, Austin, TX.

“Variations of SMS, mobile-optimized email or in-app push notification mobile marketing campaigns, whether scheduled or geotargeted, will prove a powerful communications continuum between retailers and consumers to drive store traffic,” he said.

“Mobile sites and branded native apps will provide both extended commerce capabilities on the device as well as an effective assisted selling tool for product research, efficiently synchronizing the on-location and off-location experiences of consumers and tilting the balance of power in the favor of those retailers prepared to take advantage of the mobile opportunity.”

Mobile smarts
Retailers must think of mobile as a package that includes SMS, mobile Web, advertising and apps.

This way, marketers can capture the attention of multiple groups of mobile consumers.

For example, Elmer’s Glue took a simple concept with its back-to-school mobile campaign this year– using photos to help parents capture back-to-school memories. The campaign includes both an application, as well as QR codes.

The brand’s research found that its customers were using their smartphones heavily to take pictures, making an app that takes advantage of a mobile device’s built-in camera a natural medium. Consumers can create groups of photos and add captions to customize their creations.

To promote the app, Elmer’s is using QR codes on packages of glue to promote the app (see story).

Additionally, Target has made its app a primary focus of its back-to-school shopping this season.

The retailer has rolled out a checklist feature on its app and Web site that let shoppers organize and personalize their back-to-school shopping lists (see story).

Merchandise on mobile
During back-to-school season when consumers are pinched for time, mobile merchandising plays an especially strong role.

Staples, Walmart and Sam’s Club are all retailers that have taken the time this year to heavily promote seasonal items on their mobile sites and apps.

Sam’s Club, for instance, has a dedicated landing page on its mobile site that is meant to be a one-stop shop for back-to-school shoppers. Via the site, consumers can browse products, watch season-inspired videos and create a checklist of must-have items.

Additionally, the company is pushing care package sales via its mobile site as a quick fix for parents to send their children at college.

For back-to-school shopping, consumers are not most likely looking for shopping ideas and inspiration.

Instead, they have a shopping list in-hand and are ready to shop, meaning that price is a key differentiator in driving ROI for retailers.

Therefore, it is critical that retailers incorporate mobile coupons and deals into their mobile efforts.

“Today’s consumer is looking for customer interactions that are focused and very easy to use,” said Florian Vollmer, senior vice president of design at Info Retail, Atlanta.

“This is the biggest difference in comparing shopping digitally today and a couple years ago,” he said. “Brands have learned that making the shopping experience quick, simple and easy is the way to keep consumer returning to your Web site.”

“One thing that brands have learned in the past couple years is that less is more.”

Build on mobile
SMS has become a forgotten medium for many marketers chasing newer options such as apps and mobile sites.

However, the back-to-school season can be a great time for retailers to not only build up a list of consumers, but also push special deals to opted-in consumers.

For instance, Bed, Bath & Beyond recently used in-store signage to encourage consumers to sign-up for a SMS program where they could receive a coupon that can be redeemed in-store (see story).

Since back-to-school shoppers are hungry for bargains, offering a coupon gives consumers an incentive for opting into a program.

On the other hand, Victoria’s Secret tapped its SMS database to offer consumers access to an exclusive event.

The retailer sent out a message on July 24 that encouraged users to reply for a first look at a new line of back-to-school themed products. On Aug. 5, Victoria’s Secret will host an in-store event for its Pink Nation users.

To RSVP for the event, consumers replied to the SMS message. In order to enter the event, they need to show the text message in-store.

The back-to-school SMS message from Victoria’s Secret

Bank on social
Although it is important to merchandise and promote seasonal offers and deals, the growth of social media on mobile means that it is also important to keep back-to-school shopping fun and interactive given the core demographics of parents and children.

“Fun, socially integrated mobile Web sites and games can be utilized to create buzz and attract the younger audience,” said Adel Jalili, interactive art director at Mile 9, Calabasas, CA.

“Also, I can predict tune-in apps like Shazam and IntoNow will be used as a platform to unlock offers and coupons with the increased user base on such apps,” he said.

Macy’s MStyleLab, which is heavily influenced by social media, recently ran a mobile campaign with Spotify that encouraged users to shop, for instance.

The ads directed consumers to the MStyleLab mobile site, where buttons to “Like” and share products are prominently promoted (see story).

Making sure that a mobile site and app is equipped with buttons to let consumers share content is especially important around back-to-school shopping season when consumers can be easily swayed by price or recommendations from friends and family.

By the numbers
According to a study from the National Retail Federation, 40 percent of respondents plan to shop online this holiday season, which includes mobile sales.

Additionally, consumers who shop on the Web and on mobile are expected to spend an average of $875 compared to traditional in-store shoppers that are predicted to spend $680 (see story).

Deloitte’s annual back-to-school study this year also reveals that mobile shopping is on the uptick with consumers using their devices to comparison shop, browse reviews and find deals.

Per Deloitte, 65 percent of smartphone users plan to use their mobile device to help them comparison shop. Forty percent of smartphone owners in the survey claimed that they used their device at least half the time for their back-to-school shopping.

Sixty-two percent of smartphone owners say that they will use their devices to access price information, 45 percent will use mobile to download coupons and discounts, 44 percent will view a retailer’s ad and 38 percent will find a retail location through mobile.

Deloitte’s study points to mobile being particularly strong for in-store shopping versus direct mobile commerce sales. Twenty-five percent of consumers will shop online via their handsets but only 14 percent said that they would buy something.

Ninety-one percent of back-to-school shoppers said that they planned to visit discount or value department stores, showing that consumers on the hunt for great deals this time of year.

The slump in the economy is partially responsible for consumers comparison shopping more. Compared to last year, 66 percent of survey respondents say that they will buy more back-to-school products on sale. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents say that they will only buy what their family needs.

“We expect to see many retailers approach the holiday season with a deliberate mobile strategy,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman and retail leader at Deloitte, New York.

“Retailers know they can’t afford to leave mobile out of the marketing mix – especially in their bricks-and-mortar stores,” she said. “However, there is still some conventional wisdom that suggests mobile use is a threat due to showrooming, challenging retailers to figure out how to use mobile to their advantage, without endangering sales.”

“There is nothing retailers can do to stop consumers from bringing their phones into the store – or from competitors swooping in if a retailer doesn’t have their own way of reaching a consumer on his or her device.  Consumers want to interact, and the smart retailers will respond with tailored marketing and their own mobile applications that extend the retail experience to the consumer regardless of location, proactively engage the customer, and insulate them from competitors.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York