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Personalization fuels mobile-specific promotions this year

As marketers make their final pushes for holiday sales, it is key that retailers focus on personalized offers that persuade users to shop from their handsets on the spot. Additionally, maintaining site and application performance through the remaining part of the holiday season is crucial.

“Noteworthy shopping days tend to follow holiday shopping patterns,” said Patrick Stack, manager of digital strategy at Acquity Group, Chicago.

“Retailers understand the general ebbs and flows of holiday shopping and offer complementary deals,” he said. “I expect we’ll see an uptick in mobile purchases around this time as on-the-go procrastinators turn to their tablets and smartphones to complete last-minute holiday purchases.”

“Retailers also have the freedom to create their own mobile shopping days whenever they decide to offer a limited-time deal or flash promotion, like Walmart did on a random Sunday. Customers become aware of these potential savings or free-shipping days and shop accordingly.”

Flash sales
On Dec. 16, Walmart offered an exclusive sale for its app users with the expectation that mobile traffic would surge the weekend before Christmas.

The initiative was promoted on the company’s mobile site. When consumers opened the brand’s iPhone, iPad and Android app they could receive savings up to 40 percent off on selected gifts from Walmart.

A push notification was also sent out to app users to spread the word about the mobile-exclusive sale.

In addition to getting users to download Walmart’s mobile app, the time-sensitive campaign points to retailers positioning their mobile services as convenient for shoppers this year.

Walmart did not respond to press inquiries by deadline for results of the sale.

Personalized offers
According to Mr. Stack, one of the reasons that retailers may be going after mobile-exclusive sales is because more daily deal sites such as Groupon and Gilt Groupe are selling their own holiday specials.

“Retailers are well aware of this and are responding by offering their own limited-time, flash sales to compete more effectively with these sites and drive traffic on non-traditional shopping days,” Mr. Stack said.

Flash sale sites such as Gilt and Rue La La have seen success with mobile because of how the sites lead to impulse buys with limited inventories.

More importantly, these sites tap into personalization and customization for shoppers. Therefore, with a huge amount of inventory, creating a list of tailored sales items to push via mobile could be a challenge for Walmart.

“I don’t know if it’s the time of day as much as it’s about pushing the mobile channel because it’s the fun thing that everyone is talking about,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director at Yankee Group.

“Walmart has come up with idea for circular on these products and they are using it in two ways – one could be to possibly leverage a slow shopping day and the other could be with inventory issues,” Ms. Kingstone said.

Instead of focusing on pushing mobile-only in offers and promotions, retailers should also be looking at how mobile plays a role in a cross-channel shopping experience.

For instance, research from Yankee Group shows that 31 percent of tablet owners plan to use their devices to shop this holiday season. Seventeen percent of mobile phone users plan to do the same.

“If that’s the case use these apps to target users by taking it one step further and make the offers personalized,” Ms. Kingstone said.

“It all goes back to what the golden objective is to use these new channels – is it to drive marketing awareness or inventory or allow consumers to shop when it is a down time?” she said.

Off-day mobile sales
EBay and PayPal are examples of companies that have seen success with mobile this year during the break between the typical biggest shopping days of the year.

EBay recently announced that Dec. 9 was its biggest mobile shopping day to date, pointing to the growth that retailers are seeing with mobile-driven sales during the holidays.

On Dec. 9, eBay reported a 133 percent increase in mobile-transacted sales in the U.S. over 2011’s biggest shopping date – Dec. 4.

Similarly, PayPal announced that Dec. 9 was the company’s second biggest mobile shopping day of the year. Per the company, mobile transactions were up 221 percent compared to the second weekend of December in 2011.

Lull in activity
Some experts say that with consumers shopping more from their mobile devices this holiday season, retailers are taking the opportunity to use mobile to fill in gaps between big holiday shopping days.

“There is so much emphasis on the Black Friday weekend, and once that weekend is done, there tends to be a lull that lasts until the last-minute shoppers dive in towards the end of the holiday shopping season – right about now, in fact,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research, Miami, FL.

“I think these seemingly random promotions are an attempt to spur greater demand during the lull,” she said.

Therefore, it is critical that retailers’ mobile apps and sites are completely up to par not only during last-minute shopping but also through the entire holiday shopping season.

“As smartphones and tablets stretch the holiday shopping window outside of regular business hours, the negative impact of site fails is increasing,” Acquity Group’s Mr. Stack said.

“It’s critical to have maximum up-time 24/7 to cater to couch consumers on tablets and smartphones, and avoid losing sales with a site crash,” he said.

“As the holiday shopping window expands, the most successful organizations will be structured to flexibly respond to cross-channel requirements at any given time and ensure primary customer tasks can be completed. This requires solid preparation on both the front- and back-end, taking note of changing consumer behaviors.”

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