NRF’s Shop.Org Digital Summit 2015: Mobile Is the Glue That Holds Omnichannel Together

PHILADELPHIA —Consistent and cohesive omnichannel customer experiences remain a top concern for retailers today, and central to an effective strategy is a strong emphasis on mobile, speakers agreed on day one of the National Retail Federation’s Shop.Org Digital Summit.

Sucharita Mulpuru, a vice president and principle analyst at Forrester Research, opened this year's event with a message to the 5,000-person audience:  Increasingly, mobile is the key to navigating today's landscape. "Mobile and omnichannel are inseparable," Mulpuru said, and while it is still not the most popular channel for transactions, it is becoming the hub that drives the rest of a customer's activity. For one thing, Mulpuru pointed out, mobile devices are having an impact on a retailer's bottom line, as retailers see a great amount of traffic that ultimately leads to purchases on other platforms as well as in stores. Yet it has still been a challenge for retailers to make lasting use of mobile, or to use it in effective ways, and there is still a lot of work to be done. "Mobile is at the top of virtually everyone’s to-do list," Mulpuru stressed.

Following Mulpuru onstage was Mike George, QVC's chief executive officer, who shared some of the ways his company's has successfully tackled the mobile challenge. The TV shopping network has been able to stay competitive by making digital success integral to its other operations. "We embraced responsive design…and the idea that you have to design for the smaller screen first," George said. "It's reoriented how we do everything in a way that's been powerful for us." This has meant designing mobile experiences that allow customers to search for products and buy them quickly from a mobile interface, and doing so in a way that stays true to the brand while offering customers a consistent experience.

George said one reason the company has been successful is its willingness to test out ideas on new technologies early on. "A theme [for QVC has been] trying to adopt early, take some risks, and be willing to make some mistakes along the way," George said.  In this way, the company has successfully adapted to changes in consumer behavior as digital trends emerged.

That kind of outlook is vital for all companies,  said Kasey Lobaugh, principal and chief retail innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting. “If we fail to recognize that technology is advancing at an exponential [rate], what we'll fail to do is think appropriately about our business and be aggressive about repositioning ourselves,”

Following this guideline has certainly paid off for Walgreens; the drug store chain has benefited from listening to customers, and the alternate ways they to use technology to fulfill their needs. Deepika Pandey, group vice president of customer experience and direct and digital marketing at Walgreens, shared some examples of how the company has incorporated mobile technology. A standout for the store: an app designed to address refilling prescriptions. Using the app, a customer can scan a barcode on his pill bottle to notify a nearby location that he would like to pick up his medication in store. Pandey also noted that the company is embracing wearable technologies as a way of connecting the brand’s values to customers while giving them a useful tool. This means, for instance, taking advantage of a smart watch’s ability to send reminders regarding day-to-day health concerns. "Be agile and willing to put things in front of your customers," Pandey advised. "React very quickly to feedback."

For Abercrombie and Fitch, mobile technology has also been vital in how it's disrupted the way teenagers—the company’s primary customer base—come across the brand before making it to a physical location. According to Billy May, senior vice president and general manager of digital, e-commerce, and corporate development at Abercrombie and Fitch, the apparel company's customers used to interact with the brand primarily at malls and through traditional advertising, but the company’s customer base is spending more of its free time online. The company has had to make an effort to give users impressions through those devices. "We like to say that we're mobile led," May said. "When I first started, we spent a lot of time on the desktop screen and worked down to the small screen. Today we [start on the] small screen and work backwards towards the large screen."

Doug Mack, CEO and board director of Fanatics, closed the day out with a strong endorsement for designing "for the phone first." For the sports apparel retailer, mobile is the fastest-growing conversion channel, Mack said. The company is leveraging customer data to anticipate the spontaneous moments in which customers are likely to pick up their phones and order a new jersey. For instance, when a no-name athlete has a life-changing moment in a game, the company has to respond quickly for growing demand. 

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