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Walmart exec: The biggest asset in mobile are bricks-and-mortar stores

During the “Getting The Green Light: How To Gain Buy-In From The C-Suite For Mobile Advancements” session, executives from Walmart, and Sephora spoke about how mobile is changing their businesses from different perspectives. The session was moderated by Jim Huempfner, vice president of the industries solutions practice at AT&T, Dallas.

“When I took on mobile strategy about two years ago, the organization was really thinking about it in a narrow way – we were thinking about it primarily as mobilizing our dot-com site, bringing that online experience to customers through smartphones and tablets,” said Wendy Bergh, senior director of mobile and digital strategy at Walmart, Bentonville, AR.

“While that is a great opportunity, it wasn’t leveraging the assets that Walmart has,” she said. “Our biggest asset is the 4,000 stores that we have across the nation.

“We thought about how consumers use mobile – they are bringing them to the stores, they are checking prices, they are looking at content – they are doing all sorts of things in our stores on mobile devices. So we revamped the strategy to being around how we think about mobilizing stores if you will, and as part of that there is a lot of research out there as well that shows that the biggest opportunity in mobile is mobile influence to offline sales.”

In-store companion
According to Ms. Bergh, Walmart is focused on servicing mobile tools to customers in-store such as building shopping lists or checking out faster. In this way, mobile becomes a customer service tool for in-store shoppers.

In order to mobilize stores though, there are a lot of moving parts and teams that have to come together such as marketing, store operations and online.

Earlier this year, Walmart launched a function within its app that changes the user experience once a consumer walks into a store. The app brings up features such as bar code scanners and the local weekly ad. Walmart’s consumers want to get in and out of a store quickly while also finding products for the lowest price possible.

In the future, Ms. Bergh said that the company will continue to focus on the in-store experience as well as working on payment options.

Additionally, the brand wants to create multichannel shoppers because as consumers engage with Walmart more, loyalty from those users will increase.

Mobile brings the Web to the stores, which can make for a more personalized and relevant experience, per Ms. Bergh.

Loyalty is key
Having a strong digital presence in addition to bricks-and-mortar locations is crucial for Sephora.

“If you look at our demographic in our store, she is young, she is completely engaged and connected to mobile and social, and if we are not there, she is going to go somewhere else,” said Marcy Zelmar, vice president of ecommerce at Sephora, San Francisco.

“That for us has helped us realize that we need to be a digital retailer,” she said.

Instead of thinking about mobile as a medium for on the go, Sephora views it as a connection to a store.

Sephora is also constantly piloting and testing new mobile technologies by working with third-party vendors to get data and information on how consumers use mobile. Once something can be proved with data, the case for mobile becomes stronger.

For example, Sephora was one of the first retailers to get on board with Passbook by integrating its loyalty program –Beauty Insider – into the app. One week after launching the feature, the company claimed that 82,000 Beauty Insider cards were added (see story).

In addition, Passbook has helped Sephora bolster sign-ups for its loyalty program. Per the exec, the addition of Passbook increased the number of sign-ups tenfold.

Passbook shows how mobile serves as a bridge to in-store sales with the built-in loyalty program that drives loyal users into a store.

“We love that guests have to take their phone out while they are in-store,” Ms. Zelmar said.

“The geolocation work we are seeing with Passbook is interesting,” she said. “We weren’t totally there when we initially when we thought about geolocation a year or two ago, but now just the thought process that it is tied to your loyalty and that it will tell you, ‘hey, your reward is waiting for you’ makes a really big difference because we aren’t going to do offers – that’s not what our brand is about.”

Loyalty is the glue that holds all the channels together for Sephora. This includes taking different activities that are happening online and in-store and storing them in one place where consumers can access it wherever they are.

Additionally, being able to access information such as product reviews, past shopping history to help an in-store consumer is a unique advantage of mobile.

Looking at some of Sephora’s plans for 2013 around digital in-store projects such as mobile POS and initiatives that have apps behind them, the company has narrowed down priorities to help focus experiences around the consumer and get mobile right.

Mobile eats
Chris Krohn, president and chief marketing officer at, Chicago, spoke about how mobile impacts the deals space during the panel. is a discount site that sells consumers gift certificates to restaurants. Every day the company has 50,000 restaurant deals available from 18,000 restaurants across the country.

One of the biggest challenges for in mobile is with the company’s sales force that maintains relationships with the restaurants. Since launching in 1999, has trained its consumers and partners that offers are redeemed by bringing a printed copy of the coupon to the restaurant.

Now with mobile though, the sales team was afraid that they would lose partners with the smaller, independent restaurants that have been slower to adopt to new technology.

By the end of 2013 or 2014, Mr. Krohn believes that the majority of the company’s touch points will come through a mobile device.

Since launching its apps earlier this year for iOS and Android devices, the company now has half a million app users.

“Everyone at understands how critical mobile is for our future, how important it is to get mobile right,” Mr. Krohn said.

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