November 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Mobile's moment is now

Mobile Commerce Forum speakers show that mobile marketing strategies are proliferating as fast as mobile devices.

Lead Photo

HSN Inc., whose televised shopping programs drove $2.1 billion in revenue in 2010, more than half of it via HSN.com, has been among the most aggressive retailers in investing in mobile commerce. It has an m-commerce site, smartphone apps, an iPad app, a text messaging program and 2-D bar codes. The TV and online retailer is betting big that mobile technology is transforming web retailing—today, not tomorrow.

Mobile is already transforming the way customers react with home shopping shows like those on HSN, said Edward Deutscher, operating vice president of technology for HSN.com, advanced services and mobile, in a keynote address last month at the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum in Houston. "Customers are using mobile on their couch with their handsets or tablets while watching live TV," Deutscher said. "Even though they may be watching the current item on TV they can get more information on mobile than on the TV, like customer reviews or alternative images."

Two years ago consumers weren't sitting on their couches using their iPads to gather information about products being promoted on TV because the iPad didn't exist. This was just one of many examples provided during the three-day Mobile Commerce Forum about how rapidly mobile technology is changing the way consumers shop—and how retailers market to them.

And there's growing pressure on retailers to adapt as consumers increasingly use mobile devices to shop: In July, 4.5% of traffic to online retail sites came from smartphones and 1.5% from tablet computers like the iPad, reported Jennifer Vlahavas, senior director for retail and trade verticals at web measurement firm comScore Inc., at the conference. Some retailers are reporting mobile traffic as high as 12-15%.

Snapping up an app

Among the retail chains adapting to this new consumer behavior is Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., which in 2009 launched a mobile commerce site and in May a mobile app, a dedicated piece of shopping software built for a specific type of mobile device, like an iPhone or an Android phone.

Tim Katz, senior online operations manager, spoke at the forum on how PacSun went about developing its app. More than 50,000 consumers have downloaded PacSun's iPhone app since it launched in May, Katz reported in a session titled "Creating the mobile apps consumers want to use."

The app is helping to contribute to PacSun's m-commerce sales, which represent 4% of its online sales. Katz said PacSun's iPhone app does everything its commerce-enabled mobile site can do, and more. New, app-only features include 2-D bar code scanner capabilities, a GPS store locator, fashion look-books and Facebook sharing. It can also send push notifications to app owners to alert them to new information.

Aveda, a brand of cosmetics brand Estee Lauder Cos. Inc., launched its new mobile commerce site in October and will introduce its first iPhone app this month, reported Rachael Ostrom, executive director of social engagements for Aveda, in a session entitled "The challenges to stand-out mobile site design."

Ostrom noted that Aveda redesigned its mobile site—the original was launched in December 2009—to better take into account the wider use today of touchscreen devices. The new Aveda mobile site has larger buttons in place of links—consumers often complain that they touch the wrong link on the small screen of a mobile phone—to make it easier to navigate on a touchscreen. The new mobile site also has video, which the earlier version lacked.

The new mobile site lets a consumer answer a few questions about her hair or skin type in order to receive customized product recommendations, just as she would get from a stylist or associate. "The feel of having that advisor with you on the phone is the overall goal of the redesign of the site," Ostrom said.

Mobile TV

Jewelry Television's overall goal for its m-commerce site is to keep its mobile shoppers grounded in the TV experience.

"Jewelry Television is primarily a television shopping network, so we focused on our TV shopper and how we can deliver that TV shopping experience to the mobile device," said Brian Wilhelm, director of online marketing, in a session titled "Creating and evolving your mobile strategy."

That led to the development of a mobile site that enables mobile phone users to watch the live broadcast on the TV network, view current and recent items on-air, see product ratings and reviews, and view all of the 30,000 items in inventory.

Jewelry TV brought many of those functions and more to the iPhone and Android mobile apps it developed next. "A major focus of our apps is education," Wilhelm said, noting content such as a "Gemopedia" with information on gemstones that shoppers can access through the app.

Sales from mobile devices, including iPads, grew from 4% of online sales in January to 9% in September, Wilhelm said.

Staying on (text) message

Sites and apps are the foundation of mobile commerce. Text messaging is a mobile tool that some merchants are using to boost use of and sales through sites and apps and drive shoppers into stores.

Susan Blue, director of product strategy at FordDirect, was a featured speaker at the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum and focused on text messaging in her address, titled "FordDirect drives a mobile strategy."

The Internet and mobile arm of the Ford Motor Co. recently placed a short code in Ford advertisements asking consumers to text the name of the vehicle that interested them. FordDirect texted back asking for the consumer's ZIP code so it could send a local offer. Finally Ford asked the consumer to text back his name if he wanted to talk with a dealer.

"At this point through the text technology we have their name, vehicle, ZIP code and phone number," Blue said. "We used our back-end lead system to pass that information to a local dealer and then have that local dealer talk with the consumer via phone or text."

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