August 25, 2010, 4:02 PM

Express locates customers with an app

The apparel retailer steps into m-commerce with a geolocation app.

Lead Photo

The new Express mobile app gives shoppers access to the retailer's complete catalog of products and offers promotions based on a shopper's location.

An alert sounds and up pops a message on a consumer’s smartphone informing him that if he gets to the Express store less than 2,000 feet away, he can get a free tie by showing a clerk the alert.

This represents an advanced use of mobile technology in retail, and it’s what apparel and accessories retailer Express LLC is offering today with the launch of its new mobile app, doing what many retailers and mobile commerce experts agree is of paramount importance in m-commerce: tying together the new mobile channel with bricks-and-mortar stores to create a richer in-store experience that ultimately boosts sales.

Express, No. 144 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, used mobile technology provider GPShopper LLC to build the app, which today is No. 1 in downloads in the Lifestyle category in Apple Inc.’s App Store.

 

In addition to location-based services, the app offers customers access to complete product information and customer ratings and reviews on all of the merchant’s products. It also showcases videos of events and gives customers integrated access to the merchant’s social media accounts. It does not enable shoppers to complete a purchase, though that is in the works, the retailer says.

The location-based offering is what sets the Express app—available for free for iPhone and Android smartphone users—apart from other retailers’ mobile apps. GPShopper used the GPS technology built into the smartphones along with its proprietary location-based technology. This geo-fencing technology, as it’s known, enables Express to establish a perimeter, and when a customer with the Express app open enters that perimeter, the app rings an alert sound and notifies him of a promotion or special offer at a nearby Express store. The perimeter could range from within 2,000 feet of a store to an entire city.

“We’ve heard it from our customers that they are asking for this type of experience,” says Jim Wright, vice president of e-commerce and customer relationship marketing at Express. “As we’ve done focus groups and other interactions, they say they are on the go a lot. They say they’re at work and can’t shop online because they’re blocked, and then they’re on the go, so a lot of the time they’re not at a PC but they still want to be able to interact with the brand.”

Two factors fueling the growth of mobile commerce overall drove Express to jump into mobile this year.

“The advent of the smartphone and greatly increasing speed of wireless networks created the situation where it made a lot of sense for us to get in this year,” Wright says. “We only started in e-commerce a few years ago and the growth there has been very rapid, so it was a natural extension for us to go mobile and interact with the customer anywhere.”

On another mobile front, Express has begun using text messaging in its marketing efforts. During this year’s college spring break season in various cities, Express employees combed the beaches, signing up the young crowd for text messages from Express by offering passes to get into parties thrown by the retailer. Express also has included short codes, truncated phone numbers used in text message marketing, on billboards and in ads that offer an avenue for customers to get more information on special events in their cities.

What’s next for Express? It won’t give specifics, but a next logical step based on what other retailers have done would be an m-commerce web site.

“Mobile commerce is an opportunity we have to react to, a path we have to go down very quickly,” Wright says. “And we will be expanding mobile in the next couple of months.”

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