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Retailers shouldn’t grow mobile in a silo – like the Web

April 13, 2010


Mark Fodor is CEO of CrossView

By Mark Fodor

Retailers are clamoring to capitalize on the explosion in popularity of the mobile device.

While mobile offers great long-term potential for personalization, geo-targeting and customer intelligence, many retailers are struggling to understand how to make these technologies work for them.

In an effort to react quickly, some retailers are adding mobile as another sales channel to the fragmented systems they already have in place.

Recent research suggests that less than one-third of retail executives say their companies can provide a seamless customer experience across their existing channels. So adding mobile to the mix can risk further frustrating customers who expect to have equal access to information and promotions wherever and whenever they shop.

This is a mistake we have seen before, where a customer-centric approach takes a backseat to keeping up with the latest technologies.

Lessons learned from the Web
There are plenty of lessons to be learned for the mobile medium from the explosive growth of the Web. The online channel began as an emerging opportunity to reach new customers and grow overall revenue.

What followed was a period of unprecedented growth, leaving retailers struggling to catch up on systems integration and overall customer satisfaction.

Online sales channels often grew in a corporate silo, organizationally separate from the more traditional store and call-center channels.

And although it is now a decade later, many retailers are still struggling to bring these sales channels back together and develop a cohesive approach to servicing the customer.

Growing mobile in a similar silo could create some of the same challenges, most notably:

• Business unit barriers: The single biggest challenge we see in creating a true cross-channel experience does not lie in the technology, but in the internal business processes of organizations.

Rather than an integrated approach, everything from incentive plans to team structures are based on the individual channel. This leads to competitive, rather than collaborative, internal environments and strategies.

• Access to inventory: Having visibility into available inventory regardless of location, coupled with the ability to fulfill to any location, allows a retailer to increase sales as well as customer satisfaction.

Although this concept of the “endless aisle” has received a significant amount of industry attention, many retailers are still challenged to make it a reality within their organizations.

• Inconsistent customer experience: Inconsistencies in brand experience, promotions and pricing prove to be one of the most frustrating obstacles for customers navigating through different channels.

Without the disconnect that currently exists between business unit silos, promotions and pricing could be addressed once by the merchant and then leveraged across all channels.

The customer-centric approach to mobile
For mobile to avoid many the same mistakes that were created by the growth of the online channel, the first and most important focus needs to be on customer-centricity.

By rushing in without attention to customer behavior, retailers will only add to the fragmented experience. But while mobile is still immature as a retail channel, it can act as a catalyst to develop cross-channel synergies.

Mobile should not be approached the same way by all retailers.

Instead, each retailer should develop a mobile strategy custom-tailored to the needs of its unique customer base.

Understanding the value for a particular customer group can come from surveys, usability studies, customer interviews and combing through CRM data.

REGARDLESS OF THE approach, the key is uncovering consumer behavior and marrying that with channel strategy.

By creating a single view of the customer, a promising near-term future of mobile lies in pushing out information to the customer, even though conducting transactions smoothly may still be a few years off. 

Retailers can focus on making product information available, including customer ratings and reviews.

There is also an opportunity for order tracking and access to customer account information, and if a retailer is running an email promotion, that could be easily leveraged to the mobile device as well.

The bottom line is that amid all of the current attention given to mobile in the retail space, in the end, mobile is just one of several important customer touch-points – all of which need to operate with a certain synergy to be successful.

By growing mobile in a silo, similar to the evolution of the Web, retailers are compounding an already inconsistent experience and only limiting future potential.

Mark Fodor is Cleveland, OH-based CEO of CrossView. Reach him at

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