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Mobile as an E-Commerce Supplement

Posted on 6.26.2011

The buzz around mobile applications, mobile design and mobile advertising can distract Internet retailers from their core mission, which is to sell products.

Today’s most successful e-commerce merchants, however, understand how to best use these technologies and platforms to increase revenue and deepen engagement.

The most effective way to do that is by using mobile as a supplement to an existing website’s promotional efforts. Below we will explore several strategies for excelling in what has become a challenging and competitive environment.

Be Sensible

For several years now, online retailers have anticipated and prepared for a dramatic rise in mobile commerce. Many have gone so far as to invest in elaborate applications or optimized their websites specifically for smartphone and tablet users. What the Internet retailing community has learned in the past year, however, is that consumers are still unsure about making actual purchases from their mobile devices.

Smaller screens, unfamiliar interfaces and slower load times are but a few of the obstacles facing both users and merchants. One humorous survey from Tealeaf Technology reported that most users consider mobile transactions more frustrating than going to their Department of Motor Vehicles. The same study revealed that 23 percent of mobile users have cursed at their devices while making a purchase; 11 percent have screamed at their devices and 4 percent of mobile shoppers have actually thrown their devices when things didn’t go as planned.

As a result, today’s retailers must remain relatively cautious with their mobile strategies. The “all-in” approach is no longer advisable, as evidenced by the fact that most merchants receive only about 2 percent of their overall revenues through sales made directly from mobile devices, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

That percentage is sure to increase over time, making mobile a vital component to the success of every e-commerce enterprise in the future. The key is in knowing how to supplement a company’s existing online presence through the implementation of a well-conceived mobile strategy.

“Its been a transition that’s taken the past three to four years, and it is still very much going on,” says Tom Nawara, vice president of digital marketing firm The Acquity Group. “No business should shut down its website and jump into mobile 100 percent. It is about providing customers with multichannel engagement — testing the waters to find ways of augmenting sales through mobile.”

Augmenting sales through the mobile channel — rather than relying on sales directly from mobile shoppers — is the best approach for merchants to take in the current environment.

Be Visible

Most of today’s smartphone and tablet users rely on their devices for searching, browsing and gathering information, and not necessarily making purchases. Mobile consumerism is still very much a work in progress, but the convenience of finding a business’ Web pages while stuck in traffic or in line at the bank is a significant draw for users.

Before investing in mobile applications that only a handful of users may utilize, business owners should ensure that their companies are readily available through mobile searches. At the very least, that will require a noticeable presence on Google and Bing – most fundamentally creating a Google Places page that includes all of the information that a user might need. To take it a step further, business owners will want to enlist the services of comparison shopping engines, making their products and prices available to mobile shoppers in real time.

Mobile customers may not intend to make purchases directly from their smartphones, but they will very likely want to research products, compare prices or simply find a brick-andmortar establishment. Make the process easy for them, or they will move on to the next option without hesitation.

Be Proactive

Most retailers think of mobile as a vehicle for customers to find them, but too few consider the flip side. The mobile channel is also ideal for merchants who want to increase their visibility, and SMS or text-message marketing is an effective tactic for doing just that.

Incorporating the mobile channel into a marketing plan requires significant effort. E-commerce websites should require that an option to include mobile telephone numbers is available on each registration form, and the most successful companies know how to use that information advantageously.

The idea is not to be intrusive but accommodating. Ways of doing that may include sending out discounted deals via SMS, or conducting contests exclusive to mobile subscribers. Any tactic that invites engagement through the mobile channel is a viable strategy — but they should not be limited to building applications or optimizing websites.

“A proper SMS program should be viewed not just as a potential way to communicate and cultivate a relationship but also as a relevant connector to other aspects of your brand experience for a customer,” says Dave Lawson, director of mobile engagement at Web marketing firm Knotice. “It can include alerts, branding messages, discounts, exclusive content, etcetera, but it works best when it is combined with a mobile website and is relevant to the message, works in conjunction with push notifications in apps or contests and sweepstakes to activate sponsorships or a social media presence.”

If you’re considering getting involved with SMS marketing, vendors to evaluate include Mobile Storm, Trumpia, SumoText and CallFire.

Be Aware

The mobile landscape is constantly changing, which makes strategizing all the more difficult for merchants. The best course of action is to gain an intimate knowledge of your audience before considering a mobile application or optimizing your company’s website.

Both options may require a significant investment, and might not be completely necessary depending on your company’s vertical. A flashy application for the iPad can be an alluring prospect but makes little sense for a business whose core users are not yet tablet-savvy.

Customer research is an essential element in the process, the goal being to gauge your visitors’ needs based on their habits. Surveys provide the best insight into user behavior, as do simple analytics and even A/B or multivariate testing.

“Try taking a look at the way your customers are interacting with your website on mobile devices and optimize for that,” says Lawson. “Look at referrals from search, opens and clicks from emails, affiliate and social media paths to your site — even QR codes. All are things that you can first quantify, then determine how valuable that type of mobile user is. You can optimize the most important pieces first with the long-tail customer types becoming fast followers.”

A company’s most effective mobile strategy will depend on what is determined through this research. Whether it be an app for tablet or smartphone users, a mobile-optimized upgrade to an existing website, a brand new microsite or some variation of them all, the one thing we know for sure where mobile is concerned is to proceed a certain amount of caution and a lot of optimism.

Now That’s Local! announced recently the launch of its first integrated solution resulting from the recent Krillion and Rovion acquisitions (read more at The dynamic, geo-targeted rich media ad units from Rovion provide real-time data from Krillion on products that are geographically local to each user, including information on current discounts, pricing, product details, store locations and in-stock availability. plans to distribute these dynamic ads across its network of 1,400 regional media publishers’ websites, as well as third-party partner networks, which will create additional reach.

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