July 31, 2011, 12:00 PM

Don't Leave!

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J.C. Penney built the Modern Bride iPad app in-house. It is available only in stores on Penney-owned devices; it does not appear in any app store. The merchant chose to build the app in-house because it saw it as an extension of the information technology platform—and wireless network capabilities—it has been building.

"For four years we've been building out our core platform and at the same time we've been building up our digital design capabilities in-house," Nealon explains. "We brought in some strong digital design talent from top schools and design shops around the country. Modern Bride was built by our team, which spent time with associates and merchandising and marketing teams."

Nealon would not go into details, but he says building the app—which included connecting it to the corporate content management system—went very quickly and was quite cost-effective. "It's nowhere near the cost, for example, of redoing your digital platform," he says. "IPads and apps are easy and quick to deploy."

Next came training associates how to use the iPad and app. Nealon says that because iPads and the app are so intuitive, the training required was minor. Then came employee buy-in. "It's such an easy tool to pick up and use and such a good selling tool that it helps associates in their jobs," Nealon says. "It helps them present information to customers in better ways, which makes using the iPad an easy sell to associates."

The big question: Is the iPad helping sell jewelry? Nealon won't reveal exact figures, but says the answer is an unqualified yes.

"It presents more options to the customer that may not be in the store. And it's one thing to hear it, it's another to sit down and read it and understand it yourself," he says. "A lot of it is around buying confidence, some level of assurance they are getting quality merchandise. The iPad is an integral part of the Modern Bride customer experience and our Modern Bride results have been fantastic."

Babying customers

Baby gear chain Magic Beans also reports positive results with its effort to keep mobile comparison shoppers in its stores. Unlike J.C. Penney, it deployed software instead of hardware, an app from AisleBuyer that enables customers to view a plethora of information on products with a quick smartphone scan of a bar code and then complete a purchase of goods on store shelves without having to wait in line at a cash register.

The program is aimed at loyal customers who make regular visits. A customer sets up a secure account with AisleBuyer containing their billing and payment information. Once the account is set up, a customer can check out with a scan of a product bar code and a few touches on the smartphone. Associates at the front of the store perform a quick check of a customer's goods and the receipt screen of the app on the way out of the store.

Once an AisleBuyer account is set up, a customer can use it at any merchant that accepts AisleBuyer. The company says it will be in 30,000 retail locations in the next 12 months.

Last holiday season, 12% of all transactions in Magic Beans stores were handled via AisleBuyer, and the average order value of AisleBuyer transactions was 8% higher than cash register transactions. Magic Beans attributes this to the cross-selling capabilities AisleBuyer affords. When a customer scans a product, the product is displayed along with a couple of suggested related products.

"First, one of our core values is to make life easier for parents, and we felt like something that would allow regular customers to come in and scan what they need and get out the door in a couple minutes fit the bill nicely," says Sheri Gurock, founder and owner of Magic Beans. "Second, we sell things like strollers and car seats, and our staff has to be really smart because parents have a lot of questions. For us to have a great salesperson stuck behind the cash register isn't the best use of that person's time."

Clearly smartphones are changing the way consumers shop stores. But just as clear is the fact that retailers can deploy their own mobile technology to get shoppers to buy in their stores. As smartphone adoption continues to soar, retailers best consider a strategy to earn the sales of smartphone-toting consumers.


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