New and interesting Mobile Applications for retailers

New and interesting Mobile Applications for retailersConsumers are accessing emails, browsing websites, connecting on Facebook, checking flight status and making dinner reservations from their smartphones, besides talking on them.

The year 2010 was the year of the smartphone. Brands such as RIM’s Blackberry, Apple’s iPhone, the Google Android and a host of intuitive and interactive mobile devices found quick and widespread adoption across the world. Predictions for future smartphone usage are aggressive with Gartner anticipating that smartphones will constitute 40% of the total mobile handset market by 2012.

Mobile Retailing Strategy

Gartner’s 4Q10 survey of 1,000 U.S. mobile phone consumers throws up the following facts about how smartphones are influencing future shopping behaviour:Mobile Retailing Strategy

  • 77.8% smartphone users will search for a store location on their phone
  • 64.9% will access competitor pricing information from their smartphones before visiting a physical store
  • 69% will search for products or product information from their smartphone

In a tough economic climate, retailers need to capitalize on these trends to move beyond traditional advertising and websites to build brand loyalty among customers. Investing in a mobile retailing strategy is very different from a mere internet presence and there are compelling reasons why retailers need to integrate mobile marketing strategies into their operations.

Consumers carry their smartphones at all times including while shopping, making these the most powerful, personalized medium for relationship building and branding. Smartphones are always on, they are connected and they support voice and data. Equipped with location-awareness and cameras, they can help retailers create innovative sales and service experiences for customers.

Most often for retailers, mobile strategies mean getting their websites optimized for mobile browsing and sending messages about offers to consumers phones. But do these leverage the full potential of smartphones? Is this the best customer engagement that retailers can achieve?

Mobile Applications for retailers (Apps) are feature-rich, easily accessible and provide quick results for users on the move. Most are available as free downloads and offer short intensive bursts of engagement, allowing customers to drill down to specific tasks without having to browse through an entire retailer website.

Gartner’s Q42010 report: How Can Retailers Get started in Mobile Commerce? indicates that consumers are more interested in seeing Mobile Applications from retailers than browsing their mobile websites.

US retail giants like Amazon, Wal-Mart, H&M and Tesco have adopted various home-grown and third-party Mobile Apps that allow their customers to interact with them in interesting ways. Thus a user searching on Google’s Mobile App for “nearest coffee outlets” can locate the Starbucks closest to his location. And shoppers with a Tesco account can search products and add them to their online cart, virtually shopping for the week’s groceries while on the move.

Mobile Apps in the Shopping Process

Mobile Apps in the Shopping Process

Retailers should focus on building mobile application capabilities that are most critical to their consumer base and business model rather than trying to be everything to everyone. For example, restaurant chains like McDonalds or KFC should focus on apps that allow location search to enable customers on the move to find their nearest outlets at all times. On the other hand, electronics retailers may want to invest in Mobile Multichannel Shopping and Product Search Applications.

The wide range of Mobile Apps available address different stages in a consumer’s shopping process. Broadly they serve as tools for: Search, Customer Service, Promotions and Advertising, Loyalty Building, Customer Engagement or Payment. Retailers embarking on a mobile presence can build apps in any of these areas.

Retail Mobile Applications for Search

Location-specific Apps ensure that consumers can search for and Retail Mobile Applications for Search locate stores, products, price comparisons and product reviews when and where they need the information.

Search Apps leverage cameras, scanning, voice and GPS capabilities in smartphones. Users can click pictures or scan barcodes of products to locate where they can be purchased or locate the nearest outlets of a retailer.

Google’s Shopper can recognize images of books, CDs, DVDs, and video games and scanned product barcodes. Its voice recognition capability helps locate products when users call out a product name. eBay Mobile allows shoppers to locate the nearest retailers that stock a particular product and lets users hone in on the best price available for it.

Point Inside provides floor plans of malls and airports and allows users to quickly locate stores, gates, kiosks and elevators in more than 800 malls and airports there.

Apps such as Frucall as well as mobile sites of Amazon, CNET and Yahoo Shopping offer free price comparisons and product reviews allowing users to arrive at better buying decisions on the go.

Retail Mobile Apps for Promotions and Coupons

Location based marketing and promotional applications add tremendous value to mobile marketing strategies of retailers who are looking for increased footfalls. Promotional apps and mobile coupons influence buying behaviour of customers Retail Mobile Apps for Customer Engagement within reach translating into real-time sales.

Gartner research indicates that smartphone consumers in the US and Canada are enthusiastic recipients of retailer coupons via mobile. Mobile coupons pass on the benefits of discounts and offers to customers making it a very popular application among bargain hunters.

QR Codes placed on products, signage, packaging and print ads is gaining popularity as a Mobile Promotion Tool particularly in Japan. Smartphone users who click and send a product QR Code will receive discounts and information.

JiWire Compass, a Mobile App for iPhone and Android, combines real-time product information and availability with add-on services such as a Concierge services that enable users get to the nearest retailer and reserve a product for pick-up.

Apps such as SnapTell and Mobot allow users to take pictures of print ads and products on their smartphones and send them to retailers in exchange for coupons, product reviews and other retailer offerings. Others in the segment are Mobile coupon providers such as MobiQpons, Coupious, and Coupon Sherpa that offer an array of interesting options to users.

Ralph Lauren’s Fashion App, Target’s Gift Finder App and Subway Restaurant’s SMS Couponing App are examples of mobile applications for retailers that notify customers about current offers and schemes in a particular location.

Retail Mobile Apps for Customer Engagement

For well-established retailers, creating rich shopping experiences is as much a part of their value proposition. Customer engagement apps make the process of shopping highly Retail Mobile Apps for Customer Engagementcustomized and innovative for the customer enhancing the total brand experience.

Pizza Hut’s iPhone application allows users to indicate their choice of toppings and add-ons while placing a delivery order over their smartphones. Walmart’s iPhone app for their consumer electronic range of products allows users to connect with friends on Facebook or email for suggestions and advice on the product they are looking to buy. The GAP StyleMixer iPhone app allows users to mix and match garments from GAP to view the whole look before she decides on buying. She can even share results via GAP’s home-grown social community, email or Facebook to get real-time tips from fashion savvy friends. Starbucks Build-a-drink App allows customers to create customized drinks, save and send favorite drinks to friends via e-mail or SMS.

Integrated and Secure Mobile Presence

Retailers must ensure that their mobile retailing strategies are well-integrated with other channels including stores, catalog and online so that customers perceive them as a unified cross channel presence.

As more and more users shift to smartphones and start managing every day transactions on their handheld devices, mobile applications for retailers will have to focus on customer privacy and innovation. For retailers focused on a mobile marketing strategy, it appears best to start small with a high engagement retail Mobile Application and build on more feature-rich applications in a phased manner.

Retailers should consider moving beyond mobile apps focused on product information and research to an m-commerce strategy that aims to design mobile apps for every critical action and decision making in the customer shopping lifecycle.