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Next generation retail therapy

Rohit Dadwal, MMA

While brands and agencies have begun to incorporate the mobile channel into the marketing mix, for the most part, mobile is seen as a means of either enabling brand/customer interaction, or as a catalyst to existing marketing campaigns. Retailers often see mobile as yet another avenue for online shopping, the most recent challenge to the dominance of the brick-and-mortar store. Certainly, digital or virtual goods are easily transacted over the Internet – look at how the sale of books/e-books and digital music have evolved.

As the nature of shopping changes, retailers must move with it. The experience of going shopping is not going to go away entirely – shoppers value the ability to interact with and evaluate their purchases first-hand. If anything, mobile may be the means to transform shopping in ways that can benefit retailers, and help accelerate the business.

Take Homeplus, a Tesco-run supermarket chain in South Korea. It took the bold move to replace ad panels in subway stations with full-sized reproductions of supermarket shelves, complete with product descriptions, prices and QR codes. Commuters waiting for their train home could shop for essentials by scanning the relevant QR codes into a mobile app. The app would register their purchases, deduct the appropriate cost, and the consumer would have their purchases delivered directly to their home. Time-shifting the sometimes tedious activity of shopping for essentials was only possible through the use of QR codes and mobile apps, and the result was to transform otherwise-wasted waiting time, bringing retailing to the consumer in a completely different way than online shopping.

That single striking example makes the point that retailers would do well not to ignore the opportunities offered by the mobile channel. Other mobile developments are on the horizon, including mobile finance (m-finance), mobile banking (m-banking), mobile payment (m-payment) and mobile commerce (m-commerce), particularly the latter. Using a mobile device as a medium of payment (as an electronic wallet) as well as an identifier for banking and other transactions will be one way that retail could change.

M-commerce is less about finance than it is about the entire experience of shopping, and how it is being transformed by mobile. Paying for goods and service through mobile devices is only a small part of it, and m-commerce may be what revitalizes shopping and retail. In mobile commerce, consumers use their mobile devices along every stage of the purchase journey, using them to discover new products, compare prices, learn more information and otherwise influence their purchasing decisions.

Already, plans exist for services that will take advantage of the power and connectivity of the mobile phone. Mobile payment start-up Square plans to offer an integrated service that is both location-aware and payment linked. This would, for example, notify a customer when they approached their favourite coffee shop. The customer could enter, and be greeted by name at the counter (as the system would notify the merchant of the customer’s name and preferences). The customer could ask for his or her “usual”, be served the drink, and have the transaction deducted from their credit card, all without having to remove their mobile device from their pocket.

Creative use of the powerful computers we carry around in our pockets is probably the key to next-generation retail, and there are so many areas (loyalty programmes, couponing, location-based discounts) that mobile could be used. The potential is definitely there, and the success stories are only now beginning to appear.

{Editor’s Note: Want to know how to leverage retailing over the mobile channel? just check out the latest MMA workshop}

Rohit Dadwal

The author, Rohit Dadwal, is the Managing Director of Mobile Marketing Association APAC.