July 23, 2012, 4:37 PM

Using mobile marketing apps in the field turns up many weeds

A day of shopping finds mobile apps aren’t driving store sales—they could be hurting them.

It’s one thing to read about all the great marketing apps that stores are implementing, it’s quite another to actually use them. That’s the lesson I learned last month when Internet Retailer paid me to go shopping around Chicago and try out mobile marketing apps in stores. I went to four stores: Best Buy, Old Navy, American Eagle and Home Depot. And, well, I was shocked and disappointed with my experience. (You can read the full magazine story Mobile in stores: A reality check here.)

In short, there is a major difference between the promises in the press releases promoting the apps that cross my desk and my personal experience.

I first found that most stores didn’t have Wi-Fi, which doesn’t bode well for consumers using mobile marketing apps such as shopkick in stores. Consumers who download a free shopkick app to their iPhone or Android device can earn what shopkick calls kicks—essentially rewards points—for walking into a store. They also receive other offers while in the store for doing things such as scanning bar codes on items.

Additionally, most of the store associates I spoke with didn’t know about shopkick and they couldn’t tell me what was in it for me if I went to the trouble of using it. Lastly, there were no store signs at any of the retailers promoting the app, so if I hadn’t already known about the program, I never would have used it.

I also found that retailers didn’t promote their own apps at all in stores—despite many of the retailers’ apps offering bar code scanning capabilities that could come in handy for accessing rating and reviews of products.

The two mobile shopping apps that did work extremely well, however, were eBay Inc.’s RedLaser, and Amazon Price Check, both of which returned lower prices for items I scanned in stores. A fact which doesn’t bode well for stores concerned about showrooming.

Needless to say, I’m going to ask tougher questions and be a bit more skeptical when reading story pitches about how mobile marketing apps are helping store retailers drive sales. My experiment showed how valuable field reporting really is, and I’m hoping to get out from under my pile of e-mail and daily duties to do it a bit more often. Because as I found there can be a big difference between what I am told will happen and what actually does.

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