Each year in recent memory has been heralded as the “year of mobile.” Mobile’s importance certainly grew by leaps and bounds in 2010. In fact, mobile traffic accounted for 5.6% of all 2010 Black Friday traffic visits to retail websites, up from just 0.1% in 2009 for a fifty-fold increase.

Whether 2011 will be the “year of mobile” or not, this year certainly marks a turning point in mobile research and selling – especially as it applies to the in-store experience. My coworker, Andrew Chen, did all of his holiday shopping on a mobile device this year. This possibility alone is a big milestone.

Andrew wasn’t alone in his mobile due diligence – 45% of shoppers with smart phones have used them to compare stores’ prices. With Nielsen projecting that 49% of US consumers will own smart phones by 2011’s end, Mike Duke, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Executive, has dubbed this a “new era of price transparency.” As Greg Girard of consultancy IDC Retail Insights put it, “The four walls of the store have become porous.”

Shoppers will find the information they want online, and if finding it takes them away from your poorly designed (or nonexistent?) mobile experience, you run the risk of price comparison. Can your business afford to be price competitive with the entire ecommerce market? “Ultimately, this trend will lead to a new definition of the store; purpose, place and size are all up for debate,” says Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. Already we are seeing some shoppers treating stores more like a showroom to test products and then making their purchase online” – some, like Andrew, via mobile commerce.

Capturing and retaining customers via the mobile experience.

Brick-and-mortar retailers must optimize their in-store and mobile experiences to feed information-hungry, mobile-empowered shoppers. Here are four tips for getting ahead with mobile in 2011 and maximizing its impact on your in-store shoppers.

1. Optimize your site for mobile browsing or launch an app. The great debate of mobile sites versus branded apps still rages, and businesses must decide which is right for their needs. But regardless of the medium, businesses must offer the additional information customers are looking for through their mobile experience, and it needs to happen now. 73% of shoppers already prefer using their smart phone to handle simple tasks in-store, as opposed to only 15% who prefer interact with an employee. Your mobile experience should include additional product details, customer opinions in the form of reviews, and photos of the products in use – people wearing the clothes, using the gadget, etc.

2. Make solving customer problems as simple as possible. If your mobile site is just a reflection of your ecommerce site, you may be missing the mark. Customers turn to mobile to solve specific problems: checking product availability in the store they’re in, checking inventory at other locations, reserving products, checking reviews. To avoid losing mobile traffic to search engines, finding specific, relevant product information should be as quick and easy as possible for your in-store shoppers. Enable your mobile experience to scan product bar codes or QR codes on shelf tags, automatically looking up products for users. Amazon’s mobile app and the Google Goggles app even let customers take pictures of items and search using just the image.

3. Maximize the value of your biggest differentiator: user-generated content. Most at-risk in a mobile-empowered market are sellers of branded, big-ticket items like appliances and electronics available at many competitors – in other words, some of the world’s biggest retailers. The unique customer reviews and Q&A on your ecommerce site are powerful differentiators against competitors. And customers seek out this information – 83% of all holiday shoppers this year used customer reviews in their gift shopping. Advertise that this information is available on your in-store signage, to encourage shoppers to supplement their in-store experience with your mobile experience, and capture more in-store sales.

4. Optimize and promote your mobile offering. Once you’re providing a great mobile experience – maybe you already are – get customers to use it! Publicize your mobile offering with signage and on your scannable QR/barcode tags. Check 3G/4G reception in your stores, and consider adding free WiFi to speed mobile browsing. Some retailers are experimenting with push notifications from mobile apps – 73% of smartphone users indicated they would find it useful to receive instant coupons as they pass items in stores. Advertise the availability of your UGC to attract even more mobile researchers. Promote your mobile experience everywhere you can to keep customers in your channel and out of your competitors’.

We’re just skimming the surface here. Innovations promise to make mobile an even bigger part of our day-to-day shopping experience. As a friend commented on my last post, near field communication could make mobile our new standard form of payment. Will smart phones replace our credit cards the way plastic has replaced cash? Whatever happens, mobile will be an exciting trend to watch in 2011.

Top trends to prepare for in 2011

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  • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

    Thanks, Gina. You’re certainly right about it being essential.

  • http://www.tekservepos.com Gina

    Great article and some useful information! tekservePOS recently blogged about how it’s becoming absolutely essential for retailers who want to stay in the game to start incorporating mobile technology in their stores.

    You can read that blog here: http://www.tekservepos.com/tekblog/cat/13/item/103.

    We also recently partnered with Retail TouchPoints on a “Shopping Experience” benchmark survey that uncovered a substantial 76% of retailers will be investing in the physical shopping experience in 2011 by “digitizing the store” to make it more comparable to the web.

    Visit us via the following link to learn more and/or to obtain a full copy of the study: http://www.tekservepos.com/tekreview-26/surveyresults-customer-experience/

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Wow Sam, these stats are fantastic! 30% smartphones, I hadn’t seen percentages that high. And that revenue growth rate is insane. I’ll be using some of these in future posts, for sure. Thanks for sharing.

    And glad you found the post useful!

  • Sam Hai

    Smartphone sales: 30% of all mobile phones.
    iPhone Sales: 14 million per quarter (producing at max capacity) and growing.
    Android Sales: 300,000 per day (27m per quarter) and growing.
    Current revenue from location-based services on mobile devices: $515 million (ABI Research).
    Projected revenue from location-based services on mobile devices by 2015: $13.3 billion (ABI Research).

    Personal use this holiday: GeoQpons app (location-based coupons).

    I’m gonna emphasize points 1 and 4 for my clients.