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Mcommerce critical for retailers’ back-to-school business

July 13, 2010

The Sears2go iPhone app lets consumers find and buy school supplies on the go

The Sears2go iPhone app lets consumers find and buy school supplies on the go

Retailers should be making full use of mobile commerce tools to drive their back-to-school promotions, according to a Sears executive.

Summer is a season associated with leisure and relaxation, and the retailer that guarantees the greatest convenience in shopping for clothes and school supplies stands to win big. Sears is betting that tools such as mobile purchasing and location-based search will provide the value that back-to-school shoppers are looking for.

“Sears is constantly listening to customers and responding to them by continually enhancing mobile offerings to reflect their ever-evolving shopping needs,” said Imran Jooma, head of ecommerce and senior vice president at Sears Holdings Corp., Hoffman Estates, IL. “For back-to-school, we know our customers will be busy, so we empower them with easy-to-use applications that allow them to shop from anywhere, at anytime.

“Whether customers need to find a nearby store, create personal shopping lists or pick up school supplies and clothes while out running errands, Sears offers a variety of mobile shopping options,” he said.

Sears, which claims to be the nation’s fourth-largest broadline retailer, operates 3,900 Sears, Kmart and other store locations in the United States and Canada.

Summer daze to school days
Retailers recognize the unique challenge the summer months bring. A greater focus on leisure and travel means consumers are more difficult to target and entice with marketing propositions.

However, as students begin to file back into the classroom, retail demand will surge.

The campaign that eases shoppers’ transition from the dog days of summer to the hustle and bustle of the school year will achieve impressive results.

Mobile can provide that edge.

“The summer months are very competitive times for consumer attention,” said Jeff Arbour, senior vice president of North America at The Hyperfactory, New York.

“People are more often on the go than during other months and, as a result, are less dedicated to their frequent media choices, so it is essential for brands to position their messages where they can be heard and garner reactions,” he said.

Furthermore, mobile commerce represents an even more valuable marketing opportunity for back-to-school promotions.

Students are gearing up for class everywhere while at the same time participating in activities such as summer camp and family trips. 

Letting these consumers buy back-to-school necessities without diverting their plans to go to an actual store can be a powerful value proposition.

“Mobile commerce is a great alternative to traditional methods of product purchasing,” said Jason Taylor, vice president of global product strategy at Usablenet, New York. “We will surely see a surge in mcommerce during a high consumption time such as back-to-school season.

“With the influx of television and print ads from retailers, customers will be more likely to pull out their always-handy mobile phones to make purchases on the spot,” he said. “At this day and age, with mobile commerce increasing at a fast pace, retailers without mcommerce-compatible mobile sites are significantly hurting sales.”

And, retailers have the opportunity to expand their mobile business, since many consumers will experience purchasing via handsets for the first time in order to expedite school shopping amidst their packed summer schedules.

“Beyond price cuts that will cut into margins, the most successful retailers will look at back-to-school as one in a series of touch points with consumers,” said Jeff Hasen, chief marketing officer at Hipcricket, Kirkland, WA.

“Back-to-school is ideal for first-time engagement that can spawn loyalty and repeated sales,” he said. “It also is an excellent time to reward loyal mobile club customers with unique offers that strengthen the relationship and lead to more purchases over time.”

Sears’ solutions
Executing a successful mcommerce campaign is about fostering a sense of convenience and trust, according to a Walmart executive at CTIA in March (see story).

More retailers are coming to understand the nuances of a successful mobile commerce platform, and integrate more frequently into their marketing mixes.

Sears, for example, has a number of plans in motion to leverage their back-to-school promotions and drive sales in the mobile space.

The retailer has applications called Sears2go and Kmart2go – available for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry platforms – that let consumers purchase back-to-school products wherever they happen to be.

Sears recently added new features to the applications that let customers upload and tweet their back-to-school purchases and supply lists.

In addition, because school openings are staggered throughout the months of August and September (depending on district and region) the applications include GPS and ZIP Code Locators that alert customers about which stores are currently promoting back-to-school sales.

Using these features, shoppers can adjust their supply purchase plans based on their location.

Another Sears application, Sears Personal Shopper, lets consumers take a picture of their desired product to receive information back about where to find it.

Finally, consumers who are always on the go can use Sears’ mobile Web site to order products anywhere.

The retailer attaches a “Ready in 5” guarantee to online and mobile purchases that lets consumers pick up their purchases within five minutes of ordering.

Mobile has the answers
The mobile space is reaching a critical point of maturation.

“There’s no question that this back-to-school season will be the biggest for mobile,” said Mr. Hasen said. “82 percent of mobile subscribers have used their device in a store, according to InsightExpress.

“Many will come in with a mobile coupon,” he said. “Others will be looking for one, since 73 percent of mobile users want offers.

“Given the sluggish economy, do you know any shopper who will turn down a deal?”

The idea of handheld purchases once seemed foreign to most consumers, but that is no longer the case.

Mcommerce is not just an option for retailers any more – it will increasingly become a necessity.

“The mobile channel has evolved past the new media classification and should be considered a necessary medium for a large number of brands, particularly those looking to promote back-to-school products and savings,” Mr. Arbour said. “The entire spectrum of potential back-to-school customers are active in the mobile Web and application space.

“Therefore, the brands that take advantage of this opportunity will reap the benefits,” he said. “It is especially prudent to seize the mobile moment now, in order to gain an upper hand over those competitors who are not already in the space.”

Final Take
Peter Finocchiaro, editorial assistant at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

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