July 16, 2013, 10:11 AM

Retail marketers focus mobile investments on e-mail and paid search

Skepticism over mobile coupons and QR codes remains, Shop.org and Forrester Research find.

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44% of retailers’ marketing e-mails are opened on a mobile device—28% on smartphones and 16% on tablets, according to “The State Of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing & Merchandising,” a new report from Shop.org and Forrester Research Inc. Shop.org is the National Retail Federation’s online digital division. E-mail is one of the most popular activities on smartphones; as a result, e-mail marketing has been infused with new energy and effectiveness that it hasn’t experienced in some time, the report says.

Because of this notable shift in how consumers are accessing marketing e-mails, retailers are adjusting their e-mail strategies. 49% say they are already optimizing e-mail for mobile devices, and another 38% say they will do so before the end of 2013, the report says. 8% plan to implement mobile e-mail in 2014 or later, and 5% have no mobile e-mail plans.

“As consumer adoption of smartphones and tablets reaches critical mass, retailers know their marketing mix has to work optimally for all customer touch-points now,” says Shop.org executive director Vicki Cantrell. “E-mail has always been one of most effective customer retention vehicles in the market, so it’s no surprise to see retailers investing to make e-mail engaging and relevant for the increasingly mobile consumer.”

“The State Of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing & Merchandising” surveyed 65 retailers. The majority were multichannel, and nearly half had been in business online for more than a decade. Approximately one-third of the sample were large web retailers (more than $100 million in annual online sales).

In addition to e-mail marketing, retail marketers also are focusing their mobile efforts on search engine marketing. As more than 20% of retail traffic now comes through mobile devices, retailers recognize the importance of mobile-optimized search campaigns, the report says. While search is usually the second- or third-largest driver of mobile site traffic, retailers are now dedicating an average of approximately 7% of their search budgets to mobile search on phones and 6% of their search budgets to search campaigns on tablets, the report finds. By the end of 2013, more than seven out of 10 retailers surveyed say they will have phone- and tablet-specific search programs in place, the report says.

While retailers are optimizing their e-mail and paid search efforts to address the fast-growing number of mobile consumers, they remain skeptical over other forms of mobile marketing, the report finds. The majority of retailers are comfortable with focusing their mobile marketing efforts primarily on search and e-mail efforts, the report says.

While seemingly a powerful solution because of the opportunity to personalize content and save print costs, the use of mobile coupons is still largely nascent among retailers, the report says.

“While we remain bullish on mobile coupons in the long term, we face a chicken-or-egg problem for now, whereby consumer adoption is still small, yet retailers still have not invested to shift the behavior,” Shop.org and Forrester Research say. 62% of retailers do not offer mobile coupons, while 38% have offered at least one mobile coupon in the last year, the report finds.

When it comes to QR codes, two-dimensional bar codes that link a physical object to the mobile web via a smartphone scan, retailers either have already experimented with the codes or they have decided to bypass them altogether, the report says. Few that have passed on QR codes so far have plans to put the codes on their near-term to-do list; among those that have deployed QR codes, the majority simply direct the traffic to existing web pages rather than dynamic content, videos or other potentially more effective media, the report finds.

And while there has been significant media coverage and speculation about location-based mobile advertising (for example, sending a personalized message to a shopper while she is in a store), the reality is that these initiatives are not common, and few retailers have plans to actively pursue them either this year or next, the report says. 67% of retailers say they have no plans to pursue location-based mobile check-in programs, while only 12% are using such programs and 21% plan to implement mobile check-in within the next year or two, the report says. 57% say they have no plans for geofencing stores to enable location-based messaging, while only 11% are doing so today and 31% plan to do so in the next year or two, the report says.

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