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Retailers at NRF show: wait-and-see on mobile

August 18, 2009

nrf-showWhile customers are ahead of them, retailers are using the “We’ll get there when we get there” approach to mobile.

That said, panelists at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Conference yesterday in New York said retailers around the country are rethinking their business models to adapt to the needs of a younger generation of consumers.

“We’re looking at the mobile as this PC you carry in your pocket, and if it’s useful to the customer then you get loyalty and you get sales,” said Kevin Ertell, vice president of e-business for Borders Inc.

Patti Freeman Evans, senior analyst of multichannel retail strategy for JupiterResearch, said that retailers are curious about mobile, but not exactly leaping into the fray.

The amount of transactions happening over the mobile phone is negligible, Ms. Freeman Evans said. In fact, JupiterResearch has few numbers to substantiate them.

“There’s a little bit of wait-and-see,” she said. “We think there’s an opportunity here and we’re informing customers, but the actual sales are down the road.”

To increase consumer adoption of mobile marketing opportunities, carriers and content providers need to move away from the a la carte model and adopt a more all-you-can eat approach, per the panel.

There is no doubt that the customer is moving faster than the retail industry. Many consumers believe their mobile device will be a remote control to activate their personal wish lists. To meet this expectation, retailers need to provide relevant information to customers at the point of purchase, the panelists said.

Structure rupture
When it comes to cross-channel integration, many retailers lack the necessary foundation to make it work. More than 50 percent of retailers do not have a common database, which is necessary to develop an integrated reporting structure.

According to JupiterResearch, by 2012 half of U.S. offline sales will be influenced by online.  But only 15 percent of multichannel retailers share resources across all channels, while 29 percent share none.

In fact, less than 20 percent have an integrated reporting structure of any kind, Ms. Freeman Evans said.

“Nobody goes to the next step and says ‘How are we organized and what is the strategy to use [the integrated reporting structure]?'” she said.

Further, there are few analysts who know how to work the numbers across all these channels even if a system is in place, she said.

Organizations need to have cross-functional meetings — for example, between marketing and sales divisions — and cross-channel meetings between store and Web employees.

Attitudes have to change in order for organizations to be more successful online and then take advantage of mobile marketing opportunities, said John McAteer, head of retail at Google Inc.

Google’s retail strategy has been the same for years. But Mr. McAteer said he’s noticed signs of change in the last six months.

“Retailers are moving differently,” he said. “A few months ago it was your store team and your dot-com team. Most retailers thought Web was a retail vehicle and not a marketing vehicle. Their divisions had different CEOs … Now they’re starting to see their Web sites as a marketing vehicle to drive people into stores.”

There’s a lot to learn in multichannel retailing, with retailers beginning to test emerging platforms. More retailers are asking for mobile phone numbers from customers in addition to email and traditional mailing addresses.

The ones who can afford to experiment are already trying new strategies. Online, it’s becoming increasingly common to see the send-to-a-phone campaign and not just the email-to-a-friend push.

“I’ve done it many times and it actually looks very good on my iPhone,” said Ursula Millan, assistant manager of e-commerce/retail for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “It’s a great marketing tool.”

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Giselle Tsirulnik is senior editor at Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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