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Southwest Airlines exec: Gear mobile app strategy towards rewarding loyalists

October 28, 2010

swNEW YORK – A Southwest Airlines executive at the Mobile Shopping Summit suggested brands launch mobile Web sites first and then roll out application strategies focused on rewarding loyal customers.

During the “Gaining Successful Returns From Your Mobile Channel” session, panelists discussed best practices for companies diving into mobile. The panel was moderated by Chip Fishburne, vice president of financial and merchant services at Firethorn Holdings, Atlanta.

“For our customers, they can’t go to Expedia or Travelocity to purchase plane tickets – they have to go to Southwest’s site,” said Kendall Ramirez, senior manager of customer marketing and experience at Southwest Airlines, Dallas.

“Clearly mobile is a large focus,” she said. “We have a WAP site and an iPhone application.

“We also use SMS to get customers to opt-in to our emails.”

Customer loyalty
Southwest is rewarding its loyal customers with discounts via mobile.

“The people that are going to download the application – those are the rewards members,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Those are the people we want to make sure that the app provides exactly what they need.”

Southwest sends emails each week, letting customers find deals on sales that are happening.

The company first rolled out a mobile site, but decided to also introduce an iPhone application.

“There’s something that you can’t do with a regular mobile site that you can with an app,” Ms. Ramirez said. “We took advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities.

“Right now the number of bookings we’re getting on the mobile site is very small compared to the Web site,” she said. “We think of the mobile site as a customer experience – giving them ways that they can easily access their account.”

Ms. Ramirez said that the company has plans to roll out BlackBerry and Android versions of its iPhone application fairly soon. 

Mobile shopping
Ramneek Bhasin, vice president and general manager of The Find, San Francisco, said that impulse buying is enhanced by mobile.

“We put the consumer first,” Mr. Bhasin said. “What functionality they’re going to use on mobile that’s different to what they use on the Web.

“Our philosophy is don’t ask the user for anything,” he said.

Mr. Bhasin said that the company does not think of mobile as a separate channel.

“User behavior is changing,” Mr. Bhasin said. “Users on mobile are a lot more loyal, doing a lot more research at the point of sale.

“Now we can filter their location in the search that they’re doing,” he said. “Now we start measuring how many clicks we’re getting from that same users – that becomes a big component of our metric.”

Consumer integration
Dell is using the mobile channel to leverage the products that it is selling.

According to Brandon McGee, mobile strategist of consumer business at Dell, New York, it is important to integrate your campaign across all channels.

“Mobile is simply a call to action on the bottom of all your media,” Mr. McGee said. “The more times you hit them, the more impressions.

“To get consumers involved, we have a mobile deals club,” he said. “If you provide us your phone number, we’ll send alerts and discounts as a way to say thank you.

“We let the customer tell us what they want to receive.”

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Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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