November 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Bye-bye PC, hello mobile

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His mobile mindset extends to a focus on the app's ratings in the iPhone App Store and the Android equivalent, Google Play. Shank says he starts every company meeting by looking at the first review in the App Store and by reviewing the app's overall rating, because that's crucial for attracting more mobile users. "Keeping a focus on the App Store rating is paramount," he said.

A bigger competitor, online travel company Orbitz Worldwide Inc., is working its way back from mediocre rankings for its initial apps. It now has a team that focuses on apps independent from the group responsible for e-commerce. "We recognized we're competing with startups focused solely on mobile," Chris Brown, vice president of product strategy, told the conference in a featured presentation. He noted Orbitz now generates 20% of its sales from mobile devices, up from 2% two years ago.

Lots to learn

Walgreens also is seeing plenty of business move to mobile, including 40% of online prescription refills, director of mobile commerce Tim McCauley told the conference. Walgreens' app guides consumers to the items they want in store aisles, reminds them of items on their wish list about to go off sale and lets shoppers store coupons and rewards points from the company's newly launched Balance Rewards program.

The drugstore chain can more easily apply discounts from mobile phones at checkout because it's equipped its more than 8,000 stores with laser scanners that, unlike conventional bar code scanners, can read a coupon on the screen of a mobile phone. But redeeming coupons from phones is something new, and McCauley said Walgreens has learned it's best if both the customer and the clerk can see the instructions on how to do it. "Lots of times the customer will help the cashier," he said.

As pretty much everything is new when it comes to mobile commerce and marketing, speakers reported several other usability insights they've gained recently. Faced with drop-down menus for selecting shoes sizes and colors, iPad users will frequently depart, reported Scott Cohn, vice president of merchandising and sales at, part of Bakers Footwear Group; the e-retailer is switching to buttons for choosing those options. When Dell Inc. optimized its e-mails to fit the screens of smartphones, visits and revenue increased five to 10 times, Brandon McGee, Dell's global mobile director, told the conference.

Don't look back

As they move farther away from replicas of their PC web sites, many retailers are tweaking their mobile sites and apps regularly. HSN Inc. makes changes at least monthly, Ed Deutscher, operating vice president of emerging platforms, said in his presentation. One new innovation puts two rectangles on the mobile home page that shoppers can swipe through with their fingers to see recently aired offers on HSN's TV shopping network and today's top deals.

In April, HSN introduced live chat just for its mobile shoppers, enabling them to ask questions about products on the air, including of the hosts and their guests. also is offering mobile consumers help with its augmented reality feature, available in its mobile app, which lets consumers snap a picture of a window in their home and then see how a set of blinds would look there. To make it easier, a consumer can snap a photo with her smartphone, e-mail it to and a customer service agent will get back to her within five minutes with an image of the blinds on the window, said Stephanie Pertuit, online marketing manager at

Rue La La, which gets more than 37% of its sales from mobile phones and tablets, has added a feature to its iPhone app called Right Now that shows shoppers what's just been sold on the flash-sale site and, in the case of items close to selling out, how many are left. "It creates a little theater for people," said Tom Weisand, vice president of user experience. Shoppers that engage with Right Now are 30% more likely to buy than others, he said.

All these mobile-only features are proof many retailers are taking to heart Yankovich's call for creative thinking. "Innovation is not about looking at what's already happening," the eBay executive told attendees at the Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum. "Mobile is the place to be bold."

Many retailers and travel companies are taking that advice, and no doubt many more will follow.



Showrooming: Are stores ready for the battle ahead?

Some call it showrooming when a shopper goes to a store to see a product, then buys it online, something consumers now can do right from the store with their smartphones. Nikki Baird has a more colorful take on this developing battle between store and web retailers: "This will be a knife fight in the aisles."

It's one stores are losing through ineptitude, Baird, managing partner at research and consulting firm Retail Systems Research, told attendees at the Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum. She contrasted the lack of information typically available in stores about items like toasters with the wealth of information on e-commerce sites, where consumers can access product reviews and consumer ratings, and check out a broad selection.

"Store retailers suck when it comes to combating showrooming," she said. "Best Buy maybe trains employees to run up to anyone who pulls out a phone, but that's it." (Best Buy Co. and Target Corp. both announced last month they would for the first time match the prices of online retailers in certain cases.)

She advised store retailers to provide more information on their shelves. For example, a display of toasters could direct customers to scan one QR code for information about four-slice toasters available but not on display and another for two-slice toasters. "That tells customers there's a lot more to me than what's in my store," she said.

She also offered a tip for web retailers. She said stores often attract shoppers with low prices on items like flat-screen TVs, hoping to make money selling such accessories as cables and mounts at full price.

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