December 30, 2010, 3:04 PM

Have a social and mobile new year

As 2011 starts, e-retailers say they want to move on their social and mobile plans.

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In 2010, many e-retailers experimented with social networks and mobile devices and how they could use those channels to improve marketing and sales. For 2011, e-retailers say they’re ready to invest.

“Our mobile traffic today is three times what it was a year ago. We expect that trend to continue all through 2011 so the big challenge is how we can leverage it,” says Michael Layne, director of Internet marketing at Fathead LLC, an online retailer of sports-focused wall art and No. 280 on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

Layne says Fathead plans to figure out how to convert visitors to Fathead’s mobile-optimized web site into buyers, and how mobile can play a part in the company’s social media strategy. In July, 80% of businesses across various industries, including retail, computer hardware and software, and media had or were preparing a mobile web site, according to an Adobe Systems Inc. survey.  

At TheMotorBookstore.com, where consumers can buy repair manuals and books about cars, implementing a mobile version of the web site is one of CEO Luis Hernandez Jr.’s main resolutions for 2011.

“The plan is to get ready for mobile shopping,” he says, adding that he recognizes mobile shopping will grow in 2011 and that e-retailers that fail to deliver a good mobile shopping experience now run the risk of losing revenue. This past holiday season, for example, 17% of consumers said they would use their web-enabled smartphones to help them shop and 56% of them said they’d use them to research prices, according to a survey from consulting firm Deloitte.

At Choice Hotels, which already has a mobile-optimized site and iPhone app, an app for Android-operated smartphones is in the works, says Christopher Brya, director of mobile and emerging channels. Brya says he expects the hotelier’s mobile channels to deliver major sales growth in 2011.

Industry leaders say that sales are important for mobile, but that e-retailers shouldn’t forget that mobile investments may pay off more significantly in other ways. “While purchases made from mobile phones are accelerating, they still remain a small percentage of total online sales,” says Jeffrey Grau, principal analyst at eMarketer, a research firm. “Mobile commerce will have its first major effect on commerce as an in-store research tool.”

Consumers will increasingly use their mobile devices in 2011 to search for retailer information, compare prices, read recommendations and share their opinions on social networks, which means retailers should have a mobile presence if they want to catch the channel’s marketing benefits, analysts say. “We strongly believe that the onslaught of mobility products, including smartphones, iPads and tablets, will tip mobile as a significant demand generation channel for 2011,” says Chris Paradysz, founder and CEO of PM Digital, a search engine marketing firm. “It’s here. Bring your seatbelts.” 

Industry leaders also say social commerce will gain more steam in 2011. Social commerce refers to using social networking tools to boost retail sales. In 2010, social network leader Facebook launched Facebook Connect, a series of plug-ins retailers began using to integrate the social network’s Like button on their sites. It also allows e-commerce operators to give consumers the option to sign in at e-retail sites using their Facebook log-in information, which means consumers can feed information back and forth between the e-retail site and Facebook. Two-thirds of online retailers said they offered or planned to offer visitors the ability to use their Facebook log-ons on their e-commerce sites, according to a survey from social media optimization firm Gigya.

“In 2011, look for more online retailers to leverage Facebook profile data to create personalized shopping experiences,” Grau writes in eMarketer’s 11 Trends for 2011 report. But the eMarketer report also cautions against going overboard, as consumer privacy will get more attention in 2011, especially when it comes to ad targeting.

Debate next year over privacy will involve a proposal released in December by the U.S. Department of Commerce for an online privacy bill of rights. It could change how marketers collect and use consumers’ online browsing and personal data to deliver personalized ads by, for instance, requiring web sites that collect consumers’ personal data to notify those consumers of what information they are collecting and how they are using it.

The European Union also is considering restrictions and expects to have new laws in place in 2011. And 67% of U.S. Internet users welcome the proposed Commerce Department policy, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, but online advertising trade groups continue to push for self regulation and plan to launch their own advertising privacy program early next year.

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