Retailoring Retail for a Mobile-First World

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn’t have some sort of Web presence. It’s reached a point for businesses that even if they “do nothing with mobile, [they’ll] still have a site” that’s accessible from a mobile device, points out Sucharita Mulpuru, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. But while it will be accessible, “it might not be good,” and if it’s not living up to expectations, people will likely turn to a competitor. This is not advisable, since the average retailer strives for as much customer engagement as possible, Mulpuru notes.

Kramer alludes to the fact that when the Internet first surfaced, many companies panicked when they realized they needed to establish a Web footprint. “A lot of [companies] just threw up a Web site quickly so they’d have an e-commerce presence, and a lot of them generated negative impacts because they didn’t take the extra months to get it right, [in terms of the] quality of the experience,” Kramer says. Similarly, “a lot of retailers have [hastily built] mobile sites, and they forced their associates to use it even if it wasn’t ready.” This way of conducting operations is becoming less and less acceptable.

Companies must realize that often the first place people encounter them is on a mobile screen. Some of the most popular apps available today, such as Instagram and Snapchat, are designed for mobile devices first.

Abercrombie and Fitch is just one company that has read the writing on the wall. At the 2015 Shop.org Summit, Billy May, the company’s senior vice president and general manager of digital, e-commerce, and corporate development, told the audience that the company has had to re-imagine how it would reach teenagers—its key demographic—and consequently is designing for the small screen first.


As Shelley Bransten, senior vice president of retail at Salesforce.com, told attendees during a retail session at the software vendor’s Connections digital marketing conference this year, stores are just another stop on the customer journey, not the final destination. Nevertheless, they are an important stop, and some of the most successful retailers in the game use mobile devices as a way of getting customers between their walls.

A good example is the makeup shop Sephora, which makes stellar use of its app by sending invitations for free makeovers, providing customers with an incentive to come in. Similarly, GameStop engages users through loyalty programs that link to apps and interact with aspects of their retail environment.

Mulpuru identifies Walgreen’s as another leader in this respect. That the retail chain and its affiliate, Duane Reade, offer customers the option of refilling prescriptions by scanning a barcode with their smartphone sets them apart from competitors. Mulpuru points out that adding scanning technologies to a mobile app is not as expensive as developing an entirely new groundbreaking app in the vein of an Uber, which requires extra components.

Similarly, Target realizes that to keep customers, it must think flexibly and provide a fluid transition between the physical and digital spheres, which leaves open the opportunity for mobile transactions. Over the past few years, the retailer invested in a number of initiatives to bolster its operations. Among these is a program that allows its guests to test out items like patio furniture and buy them online, which saw great success, according to Goldberger. In fact, Goldberger said that sales of patio furniture where people could try it out in the store and order it online were two to three times higher than patio furniture sales at locations that lacked the option.

Target also recently signed on with Pitney Bowes’s subsidiary Borderfree to expand its Web presence on a global scale. Customers can buy gifts from the retailer and have them shipped to more than 200 countries, which can simplify holiday shopping for many people, with lower shipping costs, too.

“International shipping marks another step toward Target being able to truly deliver for guests anytime, anywhere,” said Target’s Goldberger in a statement. “We look forward to getting feedback from our international guests so we can continue to test, learn, and iterate to help ensure we provide a great value to our new international guests.”


It’s no secret that customers should feel welcomed and valued while they are in the store. But with new technologies, the stakes are even higher: They should also feel they are in good hands. More than ever, customers do their own research and are knowledgeable, yet they still expect the people who are representing a company to know more about the products than they, the customers, do.

This is why it is shocking that so many customers end up believing the opposite, according to Bransten. She cited a Salesforce.com study released late in 2015, which found that 67 percent of customers say they feel they know more about the products retailers carry than the associates working there. “We’re failing as retailers,” Bransten told attendees of the Connections conference, which included many of the world’s largest brands.

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