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Kmart, Sears embrace mobile’s exclusivity with inventory scanning, sales alerts

Kmart and Sears have both updated their applications with the ability to receive alerts on specials before they are available more broadly and scan in-store items to check online inventory, highlighting how retailers can leverage mobile to provide added value to loyal shoppers.

Users are now able to take advantage of the enhanced features within the Kmart and Sears mobile apps, both of which aim to transform consumers’ smartphones into personal shopping companions for in-store and at-home use. The brands are also ensuring that mobile-savvy individuals receive the first crack at any sales and new tools, a strategy that all major retailers should take advantage of when it comes to pleasing frequent customers.

“The key to getting consumers to download mobile apps and keep them on their phone is to offer compelling value,” said Gene Bornac, vice president of Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “Kmart’s strategy to promote Bluelight Specials on its mobile app is a great way to garner more app downloads and the value of access to instant specials will help inspire customers to use and keep the app.”

Keeping sales high
Both of the retailers’ recent app updates speak to their desire to prevent lost sales, especially among in-store shoppers. Kmart and Sears app users can now leverage the mobile scanning tool to instantly check a product’s online inventory, enabling customers to order the item online if the desired size or style is not available at a bricks-and-mortar location.

This feature could transform any potentially missed sales into done deals, especially since shoppers will receive free shipping if they order products in-store.

“Access to real-time online inventory via the mobile app can help ‘save the sale,’ as consumers can order items not available in the store from the Kmart ecommerce site instead of going to a competitor’s store,” Mr. Bornac said.

Mobile scanning tools have seen success in a slew of other retailers’ apps, particularly when used to add items to wedding or gift registries. While Kmart and Sears have not yet implemented this option for app users, it could become a sought-after strategy in the future.

Additionally, Kmart is allowing its app users to opt in to receive notifications for its limited-time Bluelight Specials. Loyal shoppers can enjoy a sneak preview of the sales before they actually happen – allowing them to make plans to visit their nearest Kmart store or be ready to shop in-app when the deals officially hit.

Sears would benefit from adding this type of feature for its Shop Your Way members, as frequent customers appreciate receiving exclusive perks and being the first to hear about upcoming promotions.

Combating app fatigue
After a year of fledgling sales, Kmart and Sears are likely turning toward mobile to capture the attention of on-the-go shoppers and garner new customers as well.

Sears fueled more downloads of its app over the holiday season by asking in-store shoppers to enable location settings on their smartphones, select and pay for out-of-stock items within the app and receive complimentary shipping (see story).

Meanwhile, Kmart underscored mobile’s role as a shopping companion by rolling out a slew of updated app features several weeks earlier, including exclusive coupons and layaway options for weekly payment plans (see story).

Both brands have attempted to stand out from their competition by implementing rather unique app features. Instead of the standard shoppable catalogs and loyalty wallets that other retailers boast within their mobile offerings, Sears and Kmart are digitizing several in-store experiences in a bid to drive up out-of-store sales.

Perhaps most notably, Sears offers a Layaway & Go program, which allows consumers to add products to a layaway plan by scanning them with the app, thereby removing the need to wheel around a heavy cart of items until an in-store associate is found.

These types of features keep the app fresh in individuals’ minds by providing real utility to their shopping experiences.

“Consumers are reaching app fatigue and retailers are competing with apps from many companies with a plethora of capabilities – not just other retailers,” Mr. Bornac said. “Keeping apps fresh by continually adding new features is a good way to keep a retailer’s app on consumers’ precious, limited screen space.”