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Marriott seeks mobile contextual moments that matter

LITCHFIELD PARK, AZ – A Marriott International executive at the Mobile Shopping Summit 2014 said that figuring out what are the right contextual moments on mobile to engage with customers is a big lesson that needs to learned.

During the panel discussion, “From First Click To Last Click- Overcoming The Disconnect Between Discovery And Purchase,” executives from Marriott, Staples, Swrve and ZineOne touched on how to drive ongoing engagement with mobile users. For Marriott, which has 18 different brands around the world, mobile is one of the top three company wide initiatives.

“How do you put in a backlog of a number of different relevant offers and present them at the right time,” said Susan Preski, director mobile products, Marriott International, Bethesda, MD. “Figuring out those contextual moments is the big lesson we have to learn.

“For someone arriving in Baltimore, where there are seven different Marriott brands, you don’t want to keep pinging them,” she said. “Gathering that information so it is a relevant message is key.”

The Mobile Shopping Summit was organized by Worldwide Business Research.

Mobile first
Marriott made the decision last year to develop customer solutions from a mobile-first perspective. Previous to that, it took a Web first approach

However, mobile comes with a unique set of challenges that need to be overcome.

“It is a much broader scope, you have different countries, different operating systems, different types of users than the desktop,” Ms. Preski said.

The company looks to create a seamless experience between Marriott the brand, Marriott the Web and Marriott the apps.

However, with 18 different brands under the Marriott umbrella, the company also recognizes that having a consistent voice across all of these may not be the answer so it looks to how to talk to each group of customers differently.

At the same time, Marriott is trying to avoid mistakes made by competitors who may have launched too many apps.

“We watched some of competitors make big stumbling mistakes by doing multiple apps for multiple brands and that did not work well for them,” Ms. Preski said. “So we are in constant communication with our partners at each of the brands so that we are meeting their needs but also we need to meet the mobile customers needs.”

Native apps
One way Marriott is meeting customers’ needs is by building native apps.

“It is untethering us from the write once and deploy everywhere platform, which you customize and then are constantly are tripping yourself to get new experiences out the door,” Ms. Preski said. “So freeing ourselves and being able to take our existing base and then start to delight.”

By building natively, this helped the company roll out mobile check-ins, which have had a good uptick, per Ms. Preski.

Now the company is focused on mobile service requests to enable guests to easily have a two-way conversation with the front desk around their needs.

Marriott tests new features such as these by rolling out a proof of concept to a group of ten hotels in each of the brands to see how customers respond.

One challenge Marriott is facing is how to give guests a way to use their mobile phone as a key because the chain has so many locations and creating a cost-effective solution that adds value for the customer is difficult.

“Focus on the things that you can do to delight your users that help solidify the engagement you have with them,” Ms. Preski said.

Providing utility
With so much time being spent in apps but 19 percent of users engaging with an app only once, merchants need to be approaching app development with a longer-term point of view, per Christopher Dean, CEO of Swrve.

He recommends merchants integrate their apps with their other systems of record such as their CRM programs so they create as complete of a user profile as possible. This will enable merchants to provide more utility in their apps.

“You have to think about the design and development of the app, not just the acquisition but you have to think through the engagement,” Mr. Dean said.

Staples is trying to address this challenge by focusing on creating personalized first-time user experiences.

“Literally the best experience I could have, I am sitting here with my app and look over at yours, it is also the Staples app but it is a very different experience on yours versus mine,” said Ryan Bartley, director of mobile at Staples, Framingham, MA.

“If you can get them in the right relevant context the minute they hit it, you get them over the first hump,” he said.

Mcommerce upswing
In the short term, retailers need to focus the table stakes in mobile such as providing a personalized experience and great omnichannel experiences.

“Longer term, it is about being predictive,” Mr. Barley said. “We should understand what our customers want before they even ask for it.”

Sensors such as Bluetooth Low Energy beacons are an important opportunity in mobile that could change the way that consumers shop and replenish products.

The challenge here will be getting enough sensors in places where they are needed.

“That is what is going to change the game significantly over the next few years,” Mr. Bartley said. “It is fundamentally happening right now in many places.”

Mr. Bartley also predicts that mobile-enabled commerce will make a significant leap forward in 2015.

“I would say that 2015 is the year that pure ecommerce through mobile device really takes off,” he said. “I think Apple Pay is a big part of that.

“Today, it is not very easy to buy things in ecommerce. We are bullish about Apple Pay and other payments that reduce the friction.”

Final Take