July 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Driving traffic from the web to stores

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Products offered on the Amazon site are less costly and easier to install than many of the products on Bang & Olufsen’s site or in its 54 stores. But by complementing the Amazon shopping experience with personalized communications from stores, the retailer expects to transform some of its new online shoppers into customers of its broader product line offered in stores, such as home theater systems, Gravesen says.

“We’re getting good traffic on Amazon and getting exposed to new customers who may not have been familiar with us, and it’s already beginning to increase the customer base of our stores,” he says.

Bang & Olufsen credits an online shopper’s nearest store by ZIP code for online purchases and has set a policy under which managers of those stores send the customer a personal welcome note letting them know about store products and services. “We recommend hand-written envelopes,” Gravesen says. “We ship from a central warehouse, so the store doesn’t have to do anything, just care for the customer after the sale.”

M-commerce for all

Merchants also are opening up new strategies through mobile commerce.

At the Las Vegas Adidas shop, a campaign coinciding with the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game earlier this year lured enough visitors to sell out all 200 pairs of running shoes in a special All-Star promotion within an hour of when shoppers first received a cell phone alert, says Gene Keenan, vice president of mobile services for Isobar International, which oversaw the campaign.

The campaign, based on mobile marketing technology from Neighborhood America, directed shoppers to an Adidas mobile web site with information about the store promotion. A surge of customers continued past the brief promotion. “Store sales went up 25 times over a normal weekend,” he says.

While the Adidas campaign focused on a specific promotion, other online services assist large numbers of retailers through new forms of search marketing. Organizations like ShopLocal LLC and StepUp Commerce Inc. let consumers search the Internet for products in local stores, and now mobile search is letting shoppers search store offerings through web-connected cell phones.

Since last summer, NearbyNow has signed up most if not all stores at more than 80 shopping malls across the U.S. for its web site and mobile search programs, which let shoppers search mall store inventory on mall web sites powered by NearbyNow as well as through cell phone-text messaging, says CEO Scott Dunlap. “We can have tens of thousands of shoppers per mall browsing through hundreds of thousands of products in local store inventory,” he says.

NearbyNow alerts mall shoppers to the online search options on mall signage that announce “Find every sale, find every product,” and it provides mall kiosks for browsing on a mall’s NearbyNow web site. Signs also instruct shoppers how to send a cell phone text message to NearbyNow to receive lists of stores offering those products. NearbyNow lets retailers view real-time data and analytical reports on the number of shoppers searching a particular mall’s products, and it enables merchants to use that information to send instant in-store promotions to cell-phone carrying mall shoppers.

NearbyNow receives daily or twice-weekly inventory data from each participating retailer, depending on how often a merchant updates its inventory. Retailers have several options to send their data-over the web via automated XML feeds or FTP files, or fax transmissions-to NearbyNow, which keeps the information in a web-based database that supports both the web site and mobile product searches. NearbyNow earns revenue by selling ads from retailers posted to mall web sites and sponsored listings in mobile searches and charging fees to access analytical data.

I need bluejeans, now

GPShopper also offers mobile search of products in local stores, but it’s not limited to malls. Using its Slifter mobile shopping software, which it makes available for a free download to a cell phone, shoppers can search a web-based database among 65 million products in some 20,000 retail stores. Shoppers key a ZIP code into the Slifter program, search for a particular type of product, like bluejeans, and receive listings of the closest participating stores offering bluejeans.

Merchants eyeing mobile commerce as a tool for bringing shoppers into stores should figure out ways to build customer databases of cell phone numbers, such as with in-store promotions and suggestions from store personnel, says Patti Freeman Evans, a retail analyst for research and advisory firm JupiterResearch.

Indeed, that same kind of strategy-only in maintaining databases of customer e-mail addresses-has become crucial to successful strategies of tying web sites to physical stores, she adds. And by maintaining multiple means of connecting with shoppers, and coordinating web site and mobile promotions along with store activity, retailers stand to build the most rewarding relationships with customers, experts say.

“It all has to come together,” Okamura says. “That’s when you’ll have something that really works.”


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