August 8, 2012, 10:10 AM

Keep your mobile out of a silo

Unfortunately for many retailers, a silo mentality still rules, even in the age of mobile commerce.

While everybody knows that mobile commerce is a hot retailing channel, it’s important to step back and ensure a mobile strategy works with overall goals for technology investment and retailing. Rolling out a mobile presence, with all of its cutting-edge, consumer-pleasing and commerce-boosting technology, should take sharp turn away from an old retailing problem: that of building and operating individual retail channels within single silos, where technology and information on customers and products sit isolated from other retail channels. When that information is not in sync customers in each channel may see different product or promotional information and retailers can’t access and act on changes in customer activity or inventory levels from a cross-channel view.

Unfortunately for many retailers, a silo mentality still rules, even in the mobile age. Mobile sites or apps are often hastily conceived and constructed, built quickly to get on the surging mobile growth curve but with little thought of how they share information and functions with web sites. “It’s a way to get up and running faster, and then you go back and figure out the channel integration after the fact,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research. It’s an expedient approach so as not to be left behind, but far less than optimal, she adds.

That’s why merchants need to take a hard look at their cross-channel technology options while still in the conceptual stage. Better integration between mobile and other retail channels isn’t always so time-consuming and costly that it sets back a mobile project into commerce oblivion. With what’s becoming an increasingly common use of application programming interfaces, or APIs, for example, retailers can explore what are often inexpensive and reasonably easy ways to feed mobile sites with information on things like products and pricing promotions from the same databases serving a retailer’s web site and stores.

“Mobile may be another way to build and get trapped in a retail silo,” says Brian Walker, vice president and e-business technology analyst at Forrester Research Inc. But retailers don’t have to focus on mobile by itself, he adds. With tools like APIs, “they can leverage their existing technology infrastructure to build more value” in a mobile presence coordinated with their other retail channels.

APIs are basically software toolkits that software programmers can use to establish automatic transfer of data among applications. When building a new mobile site, for example, a programmer could use an API to connect with the application that supports a “Find in a store” feature on a retailer’s web site, making the same information available to a similar feature on its mobile site—and providing a consistent shopping experience across both retail channels.

When your customers find you on their mobile devices, how valuable is their shopping experience?

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