January 17, 2012, 9:57 AM

Web and mobile drive excitement at retail chains

That’s the big message at the National Retail Federation conference this week.

Lead Photo

Removing the barriers that separate web, mobile and in-store commerce represents one of the hottest trends in retail, David Jaffe, president and CEO of retail chain company Ascena Retail Group Inc., told colleagues this week at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference.  “’Omni-channel’ is the word of the day,” he said.

Omni-channel retailing, as Jaffe and others noted at the NRF’s annual Big Show, is a strategy that enables consumers to engage with retailers whenever and wherever they prefer, such as online, through mobile devices or in stores—or any combination of these channels. Jaffe focused on using web and mobile commerce technologies to extend the ability of clerks working in physical stores to better serve consumers. His comments were echoed in several other conference sessions, including presentations on mobile point-of-sale systems, as well as in many of the exhibits of vendors promoting web technology-backed store systems.

Ascena Retail, which operates store chains for women and girls under the brands Dressbarn, Maurices and Justice, is working to build up how its brands interact with consumers across multiple selling channels, Jaffe said. A microsite developed for Maurices.com, for example, encouraged visitors to vote for their favorite among more than 500 bands associated with the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival in Austin, TX, an event commonly referred to as SXSW. “Tens of thousands voted, and two thirds who voted opted into our e-mails,” Jaffe said.

Ascena is also testing the use of iPads by store clerks, enabling customers to check online the availability of items that are not in-store, as well as to complete their in-store purchases without having to go through the store cashier’s line. “Customers care about convenience, not the channel,” Jaffe said.

Other retailers also said mobile point of sale technology, or mPOS, is an important part of their growth strategies. Cosmetics retailer Sephora U.S.A. Inc., for instance, has deployed dozens of iPads as mobile point-of-sale devices in several of its stores, and is relying solely on mobile devices in a new bricks-and-mortar store recently opened in New York City’s Meatpacking District, said Bruce Whetstone, Sephora’s vice president of I.T. and chief information officer.

Although Whetstone declined to comment on how deploying the mPOS devices has impacted sales, he said they had helped Sephora complete many more transactions. During the recent peak holiday shopping season, he said, “the lines would have been out the door” without the use of mPOS devices.

C. Wonder—a new chain of four women’s apparel, jewelry and home décor products in the New York metropolitan area founded by J. Christopher Burch, who also started apparel and accessories retailer Tory Burch—is operating store checkout operations solely with iPod Touch mPOS devices, said Paul Hoffman, vice president of business development and strategy at J. Christopher Capital, Burch’s venture capital firm.

Each C. Wonder store operates with 15 to 20 iPod Touch devices. The retailer deployed its mPOS system using technology from VeriFone Systems Inc., VeriFone Payware Mobile Enterprise and GlobalBay Mobile POS, which connect the iPod Touch devices to back-end product and financial management applications in C. Wonder’s enterprise resource planning system, Hoffman said.

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