June 4, 2013, 3:55 PM

Two retailers share their mobile missions

IRCE speakers describe how they use mobile technology in stores and for online sales.

Lead Photo

While children’s clothing retailer Tea Collection’s iPad app got high ratings in the Apple App Store after launching, it didn’t end up driving sales like the retailer had hoped, says head of marketing and strategy Sarah Knup. Yet mobile traffic to Tea Collection continues to grow. 36% of the e-retailer’s total site traffic now stems from smartphones and tablets, she says.

To give mobile visitors a better shopping experience the retailer in February launched a mobile web site. Three months later during its Memorial Day dress sale, Tea Collection’s mobile sales were up 184% year over year, Knup says.

Knup discussed Tea Collection’s mobile strategy with John Seebeck, vice president of e-commerce at Crate and Barrel, today in a session at the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition entitled, “Mobility: Lions, tigers & bears and the differences within mobile.”

“In 2011, when we were thinking of starting investing in mobile technologies, the world was definitely leaning towards apps,” Knup says. However, Tea Collection’s app turned out to be more useful for the boutique stores selling its clothing offline, for example, as a way to showcase the retailer’s catalog in stores, rather than for driving m-commerce sales, she says.

For Crate and Barrel, mobile apps serve as aids for shoppers and sales associates in the retailer’s stores. In 2012 the retailer launched a gift registry app that enables users to scan items in stores, manually enter SKU numbers or speak product names in to it to add products to their registry lists, Seebeck says. The app has 73,000 downloads, has scanned 187,542 bar codes, and shoppers have used it to read 350,000 product reviews, he says. As a result, the retailer has been able to replace its handheld bar code scanners in stores with the app, he says.

Crate and Barrel also last year built mobile tools to help its store associates using iPod Touch devices, Seebeck says. They can check whether store displays are up-to-date with the inventory available off the showroom floor and they can use the iPods to access a pared-down version of the desktop e-commerce site in order to assist shoppers with browsing and buying online, he says.

Part of the challenge in building mobile technology is keeping mobile sites and apps up to date with desktop sites, Seebeck says. Crate and Barrel is working internally to build a universal code base for all of its web sites, including mobile. The code base, slated for launch later this year, will allow the retailer to make site updates that automatically push out to all platforms, he says.

In another mobile commerce endeavor, Crate and Barrel this week is launching a 3D room designer app for the iPad, Seebeck says. Customers will be able to take pictures of rooms in their homes and overlay the retailer’s furniture on them to test how the items will look before they buy.

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