November 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Mobile's moment is now

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To conclude the text conversation, FordDirect sent a thank-you text, adding that a dealer would be in touch soon. It included an option for consumers who did not want to wait, linking them to a mobile-optimized Ford web site where they could continue shopping.

The conversion rate from text message leads was 18%, far above the 7% conversion rate for other leads, Blue said.

"Mobile drives our business forward," she said. "It might not necessarily be in buying a car from your phone, but as comparison shopping by phone increases it is very important we provide the tools consumers need to help them during their shopping process."

A text message can be effective even though it only affords a merchant 160 characters (including spaces) to craft a message—so long as the message is simple, said Jake Fenske, director of online marketing at video rental service Redbox, in a presentation entitled "Text message marketing: New tricks for the old workhorse of m-commerce."

He illustrated that point with a report on a 10-day text message marketing campaign Redbox ran in May. Redbox offered consumers the chance to text in a code to receive via text a discount code for savings of anywhere from 13 cents to $1.50 on a DVD rental. The video rental company publicized the promotion at its rental kiosks, by e-mail, on its web site and through social media.

The 10-day promotion resulted in the company sending out 1.5 million discount codes in response to texts from consumers; 400,000 of them represented unique participants, Fenske said. Customers used the codes an average of four times during the 10 days, fulfilling a key campaign goal of deepening customer engagement with the brand.

"Text is king in the mobile space," said Fenske's co-presenter David Geipel, chief operating officer of texting platform vendor QWASI Inc. Geipel backed up that assertion with statistics from the Pew Research Center's report "Americans and Text Message Marketing." That report showed that texting was the most popular activity among cell phone owners other than making calls, with 73% of those surveyed using their phone for texting, more than double the 31% who downloaded an app on their phones, he said.

The second dimension

While text messaging may be, as Geipel's session suggested, "the old workhorse of m-commerce," two-dimensional bar codes are the new stallion. These 2-D codes, little squares with patterns, are popping up everywhere, including on product packages and in-store signs and in magazine ads. A smartphone user with a 2-D code reader app points the smartphone's camera at a code and is automatically whisked to mobile web content.

O'Brien Watersports this year tested how 2-D bar codes could help it sell more of its top-selling product through Dick's Sporting Goods stores. It added Microsoft Tag 2-D bar codes to the box of its Super Screamer raft, to end-cap displays placed at Dick's Sporting Goods stores and to print ads for the Super Screamer, all of which connected consumers to a 20-second video that showed kids and adults on the raft being pulled by a speed boat.

After it added the tags in June, sales of the raft at Dick's stores increased 19.6% from the year prior, said Pete Surrette, vice president of sales and marketing, in a forum session titled "The future of interactive marketing: What all marketers need to know about 2-D bar codes." Sales of the raft increased an average of 10% for all other domestic retailers, Surrette said, which suggests the 2-D bar code promotion at Dick's nearly doubled the sales growth.

With its early success using 2-D bar codes, the manufacturer is now adding videos and tags on more products to assist consumers with other product questions, Surrette said. For example, a 2-D bar code included on the product manual for a raft links to a video that shows the consumer how to properly inflate it.

The big small screen

Like 2-D bar codes, tablets are drawing a lot of attention in e-retailing. The mobile devices offer a larger screen than smartphones, giving merchants a lot of room to dazzle customers with powerful apps.

Gilt Groupe sold a VW Jetta to a Gilt iPad app user less than a minute after offering the car to iPad owners at a deep discount, and a $25,000 vintage Rolex to another iPad app user, said Chris Maliwat, Gilt Groupe vice president of strategy, in a session titled "Designing for tablets: From niche to mainstream access."

"Our members are on the go and want to make a decision quickly," he said. "They aren't trigger-shy to buy anything through the iPad device."

More than 250,000 consumers have downloaded the Gilt iPad app since it launched in April, Maliwat said, and half of Gilt's total mobile revenue comes from iPad users. Mobile sales comprise anywhere from 17% to 30% of total sales depending on the day of the week, he added, with the higher percentage coming on weekends.

"From the responses that we get from consumers, it is fundamentally different to virtually touch an object on a touchscreen, and it bridges the connection to make them feel the product, and that's something that they can't get through mousing on the web," Maliwat said.

Convincing the boss

All of these technologies may prove effective in boosting web sales and assisting customers in stores, but before they can be implemented, e-commerce and m-commerce executives have to convince senior management that their company needs an m-commerce presence.

Executives must build relationships and prepare answers to numerous questions to successfully sell their m-commerce projects, said Christopher Brya, director of mobile and emerging channels at Choice Hotels, in his featured address titled "Positioning mobile with senior management." "Having a great idea and being a champion is relatively simple," Brya said. "Selling it is another story."

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