A Mobile Retail Guide

Everything You Need to Know

The Top Performing Mobile Retail Technologies

Mobile commerce originated in 1997 when two Coca-Cola vending machines near Helsinki accepted payment using SMS text messages. Since then mobile commerce, or m-commerce as it's known among those in the know, has come to include just about everything that uses mobile devices to perform commercial transactions.

The market growth of m-commerce is too big for retailers to ignore. At the CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit, Gartner analyst Michael McGuire shared that in the U.S., about half of digital commerce revenue comes from mobile. Similarly bullish predictions come from an eMarketer study that forecasts well more than half of all online retail transactions in the U.S. will take place on these personal devices in the next year.

In addition to m-commerce transactions, mobility is increasingly influencing in-store sales. According to a Deloitte study, the "mobile influence factor", the effect of smartphones on in-store sales will increase to over $1 trillion, or 29% of total store sales in the next two years.

Clearly the top brick and mortar retailers are bridging the gap between ecommerce and in-store shopping by adopting a bricks-and-clicks strategy which delivers the best of both worlds to consumers. However, many small and midsize merchants struggle with the opportunity to use m-commerce in a way that puts a retail outlet in every consumer's pocket or purse and further leverages m-commerce to achieve m-profits.

To spur some ideas and hopefully some actionable follow-through, I'll use this blog post to share some research findings, best practices and my own experiences in aiding clients with some big m-commerce projects. These projects include clienteling, SoLoMo, retail mobile apps and mobile POS.


Clienteling helps sales associates engage consumers in personalized ways that turn browsers into buyers.

Sometimes called mobile-assisted selling, clienteling delivers consumer and product information to both sales associates and shoppers. It's typically done on tablet devices, to improve the shopping experience for consumers and the sales conversions for retailers. It’s also a powerful tool to combat showrooming.

With clienteling applications integrated to CRM systems, sales associates have access to a 360 degree customer view, including the consumer's demographics, purchase history, purchase preferences, lifestyle interests, loyalty program or even personal information such as anniversary dates and birthdays. Associates can use this data to improve one-on-one communication, deliver more relevant recommendations, and achieve a more personalized consumer shopping experience.

In addition to consumer information, this mobile retail technology delivers real-time inventory information so that associates never have to leave a consumer's side. Capabilities such as visibility to product availability by location can enable associates to "save the sale" when an item is not available in the store.

`Retail Mobile

Clienteling apps include dashboards, contextual menus, triggering events, automated recommendations and business process workflows which proactively guide sales associates, reinforce repeatable processes and promote rewarding customer experiences.

And because clienteling apps support prescriptive business processes they also offer the opportunity for sales associates to easily harness retail best practices or replicate the processes of top associates.

Clienteling was initially adopted by luxury brands. But the reality is that any store with sales associates that wants to engage and even wow consumers can achieve the benefits. Retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co have replaced their infamous "black books" used by their sales associates with new clienteling applications.


It's hard to discuss mobile retail marketing without bringing up what may be the most entertaining acronym in all of retail technology: SoLoMo.

SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) is most often used for hyper-local search performed on a personal device. It uses search engine marketing to append search engine results with nearby locations which match search queries — which are often restaurants or retailers. In this context, SoLoMo brings location to search performed on mobile devices.

The consumer data is clear in showing why SoLoMo has so much potential. According to comScore, more than 90% of U.S. consumers carry smartphones. 84% use their devices to find local information like directions and retailers. 58% want to receive promotional coupons or offers based on their location. And 28% have checked in at bricks and mortar retailers using social apps like foursquare.

And on the other side of the equation, while 90%+ of consumers carry smart devices, only 3% of brick and mortar retailers are smart-enabled. This is a really big missed opportunity. Fortunately, many retailers are adjusting their marketing budgets to respond to these consumers. According to advisory firm BIA/Kelsey, social-mobile ad revenue is increasing 28.5% annually.

The convergence of social, local and mobile began as the addition of local information on search engine results displays delivered on personal devices. However, it has since evolved to include local check-in services such as foursquare and Gowalla. It also presents or pushes offers to consumers based on their location or proximity to the retailer. Now retailers are further understanding how this technology trifecta directly influences other channels and impacts in-store sales. Here's some stats from Monetate that show mobile searching's rippling effects.

Mobile Retail Search

Despite the upside potential, challenges for SMB retailers generally include education and technology.

SoLoMo has made it to the marketers' lexicon but not necessarily to SMB retailers. Most see this consumer movement taking place in their stores anecdotally, but are yet unclear as to how much business this really nets, or could net if promoted. Many SMBs are similarly unclear on what tools or cost-effective technology solutions are available to automate and accelerate proactive outreach to buyers in their vicinities.

This retail technology is still in early days but when you recognize that consumers' want what they want when and where they want it, it's a no brainer that forward thinking retailers will respond to this growing consumer demand.

To begin preparing for this movement, consider the following recommendations:

  • Meet with your web folks to understand what it takes to make your website mobile-friendly. Or even better, design it to be mobile-first.
  • Update your website to include the information and services that mobile shoppers are looking for. This includes Store Locater functions, addresses integrated with Google or Bing maps, click-to-call services and hours of operation.
  • If you are a bricks and mortar retailer that relies on traffic and benefits from search engine discovery, it’s time to update your SEO to include geo-location and local search optimization.
  • Whether in-store or over digital channels, encourage registration and opt-in for mobile retail offers. Be transparent in your request, and offer multiple types of content for consumers to select from.
  • Investigate SoLoMo retail-based services for attracting shoppers. First use them as a consumer. Then consider how to use these services to acquire shoppers. Start with foursquare.
  • Figure out how to personalize SoLoMo efforts. With some help from your CRM system, personalize the messaging, tailor the offers and customize the deals based consumer shopping history, loyalty program preferences, or likes and shares on social networks.
  • To do SoLoMo optimally, it's imperative to view social, local and mobile retail technologies in a holistic manner and avoid creating yet more information siloes.
  • The intersection of these three mega trends is where retailers can find a significant business opportunity. The ubiquity of smartphones, the expanded reach of social media and the consumer's proximity to merchants are powerful in and of themselves. But making them truly symbiotic requires more planning and effort than just sending promotions to telephone numbers.

The goal is to harness the confluence of these three trends in a way that delivers personalized, relevant and timely messaging. For this technique to actually connect with consumers and achieve response objectives, the execution should be integrated to consumer data (purchase histories, preferences and the like) in the CRM or loyalty system. It should further consider predictive analytics to identify and forecast what mix of customer data points in combination with social, mobile and local technologies will most resonate with consumers.

Retail Mobile Apps

Mobile retail apps represent a real quandary for retailers. If successfully embraced, they deliver substantive shopper engagement, consumer intelligence and revenue results. comScore reports that shoppers on these apps are 46% less likely to compare prices or comparison shop with their devices. However, the apps are part of a crowded market and getting consumer adoption can be a tough journey.

On the upside, mobile retail apps are showing some clear trends. Forrester reports that more than 24% of U.S. adult iPhone users and 21% of Android users have used a shopping application in the past three months. Looking a bit deeper, recent research from Swirl reports that 85% of shoppers have used a mobile app while inside a store to search for sales/offers (81%), research products (61%), make a purchase if the product isn't in-store or cheaper online (26%), check-in (14%) and pay for an in-store purchase (13%).

The research also shares that 79% of consumers who have received push notifications on their smartphones in the past 6 months have made at least one purchase as a result.

Many retailers are finding big success with these apps. Below is a table from Mobidia showing the consumer utilization for some top brands.

Shoppers using the iOS
app at least weekly
Shoppers using the Android
app at least weekly
Victoria's Secret
Gilt Groupe
RedLaser (eBay)

As the above table illustrates, retailers often realize notable differences between iOS and Android versions for their apps. Most retailers and m-commerce vendors suggest that Apple mobile device shoppers are more valuable than Android and other device consumers.

Chris Hill, VP at Mobidia notes that "Retailers especially often use Apple iOS as what is called the reference platform. It's the platform they first design, build and optimize an app for, and then they port that experience over to Android."

On the flipside, the apps may be nearing a saturation point. More troubling, 26% of the time customers never give a mobile retail app a second try — suggesting the first impression matters and there is very little tolerance for a poor user experience.

Also, consumers are only willing to manage a small number of apps. So, unless you have a strong brand or can produce an app with a very rewarding user experience and worthwhile utility as judged by your consumers, it may be wise to forego the investment. These apps are not something you do on the side or as a part-time project.

There's also an increasing trend whereby consumers are more willing to shop on mobile-friendly websites. This may represent an alternative to developing mobile apps, however, comes with different pros and cons.

In my talks with retail marketing executives that have been successful with these apps, I find they define success a bit differently. Sure, they use these apps to acquire first-time consumers and increase purchase conversions, but that's secondary. Their primary goal is customer retention and repeat repurchases. They know that delivering periodic relevant and personalized content on the consumer's device, or sending messaging to mobile apps as part of a multi-channel nurture campaign, keeps the consumer feeling appreciated and keeps the retailer top of mind.

Successful companies also define very specific objectives. For example, enhancing the in-store experience in a way that increases sales conversions. This may be done with app features such as check-in, product location, product bar codes, beacon-empowered mobile offers, portable product offers and mobile payments.

Or another objective may be to enhance the out of store consumer experience in order to promote repeat purchases, higher margin sale items or customer lifetime value. Mobile app features to support this goal can include store finders, product catalogues, shopping lists, gamification techniques, loyalty program access, ecommerce access, order and shipping information, and product scanning with links to product details, back stories, social sharing, product reviews or even side by side product comparisons.

Mobile Point of Sale

Mobile POS (mPOS) is another technology that has garnered attention from bricks and mortar retailers. mPOS most often uses a tablet or smartphone instead of a stationary point-of-sale terminal to complete the consumer purchase transaction.

According to research firm IHL Group, the mPOS market is growing 22% annually. This makes it one of the top retail IT investments.

The consumerization of retail IT is showing up from several vendors. The iPad with both free and fee-based apps has become a roaming POS system. The Microsoft 365 Dynamics for retail solution uses the Surface tablet as a mPOS that is fully integrated with back office ERP as well as omnichannel retail communications.

IMHO, the top objective and benefit of mPOS is to enhance the consumer experience with relevant engagement, personalized interaction and a more rewarding Customer experience.

mPOS can also help start-up or expansion mode retailers perform POS transactions without investing in fixed location cash registers. This also allows sales associates to roam the floor and engage consumers near the place of product consideration. It shortens check-out lines, uses product lookup (by location) to perform "save the sale" processes, supports special orders for out of stock or custom items, increases table turns, reduces front-of-house or cashier staffing, emails paperless invoices, accommodates peak demand or customer influxes more easily, and acts as a tool to deter shopper showrooming.

But mPOS should not exist in a vacuum. So, access to related systems such as CRM, inventory management, merchandise returns, asset tracking, promotions management, price marking, merchandising applications and possibly field service are needed to support common business use cases, make the technology sustainable and earn a payback on your investment.

While easy to adopt, merchants must recognize the many data privacy and information security safeguards. PCI compliance, point-to-point encryption, the storage of the cardholder personal account number (PAN), cardholder verification methods and special considerations for EMV chip transactions are but a few of the data custodianship responsibilities that must be iron clad before mobile point of sale can become a reality.

Hand in glove with mPOS is mobile payment processing. While the two technologies are symbiotic they may be adopted together or separately.

According to the Juniper Research report, titled Mobile Payment for Digital and Physical Goods, mobile retail payments are forecast to grow 26% annually. That's some big growth. The Gallagher Consulting Group research puts this market figure into perspective by reporting that almost half of today's smartphone users are using mobile wallets as their preferred payments method. Merchants will obviously need to support these consumers payment preferences if they expect to earn their business.

But like many technologies, stores face a vast number of digital payment choices.

Mobile credit card readers such as Square Register, Intuit GoPayment, PayPal Here and a slew of followers simply plug into the mobile device's audio jack to perform payment processing. Technology companies such as Google have been offering its Google Wallet Mobile App for over a decade, and uptake has been slow but consistently rising. Analyst firm Gartner projects mobile retail apps and in-application purchases will incur double digit growth annually.

When trying to make the best decision among a high number of tech options, it's important to first know what your customers prefer — which can be understood with a Voice of the Customer analysis — and then to solidify your business objectives. These two prerequisites will then put the technology choices into perspective.

According to Boston Retail Partners, 52% of retailers plan to implement mPOS and payment processing in the next two years. The most cited objectives by these retailers includes saving floor space, improving customer service, reacting in real time with offers and promotions, saving sales by checking product availability and location even if the products are not available in the floor and creating multiple checkout points at the point of interaction. These objectives might be a good starting point for other retailers planning their mPOS and payment processing journey.

The Call for Mobility

With advantages such as simplicity and convenience, mobility has quickly become a consumer de facto communication method. Smart retailers are leveraging mobile retail execution strategies and enabling technologies to connect with consumers using their preferred devices. Mobile marketing delivers immediacy, ubiquity and convenience like no other channel.

It is also more controlled by the consumer than other marketing methods. Marketing over personal devices requires user consent (opt-in) or user initiation. More so, there's a clear correlation between consumers feeling in control and retailer response conversions. It's a win-win scenario.

Beyond my experiences in QR codes, location-based marketing, SMS, mobile ads, beacon technologies and branded retailer apps, there are a plethora of additional mobile marketing techniques. They include things like tailoring your website for personal devices, locality-based SEO, mobile check-ins and similar social network location notifications.

Or with a little more effort, they can include push notifications, marketing offers integrated with digital signage, and engaging in mobile ads or location-based PPC and retargeting. And new techniques such as SoLoMo are not yet in mainstream adoption, but clearly offer some impressive potential.

Notwithstanding the variety of options, a marketing best practice is to avoid treating mobile marketing as a standalone effort and instead integrate mobility into the overall marketing mix.

Pursuing a holistic marketing strategy will permit different marketing campaigns to complement one another, integrate multiple campaigns into a multi-channel distribution mix and repurpose retail technology tools for future marketing methods. It will also avert disintegrated data siloes and collect the vast amount of consumer intelligence that can be harnessed to enhance and grow marketing performance and consumer relationships.

Despite a plethora of new marketing technology tools, it's also critical to remember that marketing effectiveness is determined by the quality of the offer, not the technology used to deliver the offer.