October 3, 2013, 4:26 PM

Two vendors enable push notifications via the mobile web

The mobile messages are similar to the kind delivered by apps.

Lead Photo

What the pharmacy chain's app push messages look like on the screen of a smartphone.

Push notifications have been mobile apps’ secret weapon. They enable the app developer, such as a retailer, to deliver short messages that overlay on smartphone and tablet screens, appearing atop anything a device user is viewing or, if the device is off, turning the screen on for a moment to display the message and sound an alert tone. Push notifications can be delivered when an app is open or, more important, when an app is closed. So retailers can send occasional marketing messages to app users to get those consumers to keep using the app, presuming the users gave the OK for a retailer to send push messages. Most apps ask users to OK push messages when they first are opened.

Walgreen Co., for example, uses push notifications in its apps to alert consumers when they have prescriptions that are ready to be refilled. Walgreens tied push messages together with text messages and e-mails and, though it declines to reveal exact figures, says push notifications have been a “big win” for the company.

Now, two vendors are taking push notifications out of the realm of apps and into the mobile web. Usablenet Inc., an m-commerce platform provider, and Xtify Inc., which specializes in mobile customer engagement via mobile messaging, have come up with a technology that enables retailers with mobile commerce web sites to deliver push notifications through the browser. While these mobile web-based push messages can only be sent when a consumer is on a retailer’s m-commerce site, they can be used like app-based push messages to display to consumers special offers or send customized reminders, such as when a customer has abandoned products in a shopping cart.

Mobile web push notifications allow brands to engage on a one-on-one basis with their customers, says Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer at Usablenet.

“This power of personalized messaging, including sending shoppers abandoned cart reminders and personalized notes with special discounts and offers, puts customizable content in the hands of the retailer,” van Vuuren says. “Further, push notifications offer marketers more direct control over promotional messaging and extend their ability to connect with customers without creating new mobile campaign pages.”

Here’s how it works. A retailer with a Usablenet-built mobile commerce web site integrates the two vendors’ mobile web push notifications JavaScript software development kit, or SDK, into the mobile site. The retailer then logs into Xtify’s web-based campaign management system to create push message content and configure rules and visitor attributes that determine when and where a push notification appears and how many pushes a consumer receives. Pushes are based on visitor profiles and real-time browsing behavior recorded by cookies and/or retailers’ customer relationship management system data on registered customers who are logged in on the site. The m-commerce site shoots visitor profile and web behavior data to Xtify servers, which compare the data to the retailer’s rules. If there is a match, Xtify sends a push message to that shopper through the mobile web browser. Notifications also are stored in an inbox built into the mobile site.

The mobile web push messages can take the form of screen overlays, like app push messages. But Xtify says it expects retailers to use the web-based messages to personalize web pages by replacing existing content designed for all site visitors with a push notification aimed at that visitor.

“While mobile web push has the same name as app push, the use cases are different,” says Josh Schiffman, senior vice president of strategy and operations at Xtify. “In the case of mobile web push, the value is the ability to target and personalize the browsing experience. Apple will soon be enabling push notifications through its Safari browser on Apple desktop computers, and this technology will make its way to mobile Safari as well.”

Schiffman suggests various ideas for mobile web push notifications, including presenting specials and coupons without updating the site or using ad servers, displaying newsletter opt-in windows to shoppers who are not on a retailer’s list, presenting re-engagement messages to shoppers who have abandoned carts, displaying VIP messages to shoppers who have visited a certain number of times, and presenting different content based on a shopper’s proximity to a retail store.

On a related note, IBM Corp. on Oct. 3 acquired Xtify for an undisclosed sum. IBM will use Xtify to expand IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, which is designed to help companies engage, convert and retain mobile app users and mobile site visitors.

“With the increase of mobile devices, organizations across all industries are anxious to develop a mobile approach to engage their customers,” says Kevin Bishop, IBM vice president for digital marketing. “The acquisition of Xtify provides new ways for our clients to foster a direct, one-to-one communication channel with their customers.”

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