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Focus on: The Mobile Channel


Mobile commerce was top of mind at the National Retail Federation’s 100th Annual Convention & EXPO in New York City. There is now widespread agreement among analysts and retailers alike that smart phones are rapidly evolving into core shopping tools by omni-channel shoppers.

“There was marked increased mobile shopping traffic this year compared to the 2009 holiday shopping season,” said Phil McKoy, VP technology, Target Corp., Minneapolis.

McKoy, who spoke at the session entitled “Avoiding the Mobile Me-Too Trap: Differentiating to Win,” said that Target began integrating a mobile channel into its cross-channel retailing strategy approximately two years ago. The chain based its decision on multichannel shoppers’ propensity to shop and spend more than single-channel shoppers.

“We also watched the groundswell around mobile, and saw the potential benefits of making the investment and adding a mobile platform to our multichannel strategy,” McKoy reported. 

Target developed its mobile platform with the end users in mind. The channel’s apps help shoppers scan bar codes to access merchandise information, create shopping lists and read reviews. Other apps support mobile gift cards and mobile coupons. 

“Overall, the technology has to address shoppers’ needs,” McKoy said. “Our guests just want shopping to be easy, so we are tasked with creating a cohesive program that makes it easier for shoppers to interact with Target.”

Walgreens: Drug store retailer Walgreens has also integrated mobile into its multichannel strategy. 

“We wanted to present a consistent shopping experience, one that is the same across all channels, and wouldn’t confuse shoppers,” explained Denise Wong, Walgreens’ CIO, during the mobile session. “There should only be one face of Walgreens, regardless of the channel they use.” 

Walgreens has developed various apps to help streamline the shopping experience. The chain’s refill app allows shoppers to order prescriptions by inputting Rx numbers or navigating through their order history. Another app helps consumers upload photos and place print orders, and even check the status of orders. 

On the flip side, the drug chain is also experimenting with how mobile apps can streamline internal operations. 

“We have added apps for front-end operations, inventory management, even photo printing, in effort to improve workflow operations,” Wong reported. “The apps free up employees from their workstations and enable them to spend more time with the customers.”

Walgreens is also exploring mobile point-of-sale, an option that would allow it to create a more intimate and consultative checkout experience. 

“It is a streamlined line-busting system that can reduce checkout time and enhance customer service, without interrupting intimacy,” Wong added. 

Target also launched a simplified mobile checkout app last fall, McKoy reported. 

As mobile commerce continues to pick up steam, retailers are already envisioning new ways to integrate the technology into their operations. Mobile payments could be the next logical step.

“As more NFC (near-field communication, which is a wireless communication technology currently used in mobile payment) initiatives become available, m-wallets will definitely be coming,” Wong said. “Our shoppers are going to expect to use their phones to pay for merchandise, but an m-wallet will give them electronic access to debit, credit, gift cards, even mobile loyalty where they can receive and redeem targeted coupons.”

Target is keeping its nose to the grindstone when it comes to adding new functionality. 

“We still continue to learn and innovate,” McKoy said. “Shoppers want to interact with us from a mobile perspective, and as long as they want to use it, we will continue learning how to blend mobility into our operations.”

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