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Mobility Matches

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Two retailers, located a continent apart and offering distinctly different merchandise, are seeing similarly dramatic increases in traffic and sales – both as the result of programs that answer shopper demands for greater mobility.

What jeweler Alex and Ani, headquartered near Providence, R.I., and children’s apparel retailer Tea Collection, based in San Francisco, have in common is an effective response to customer wants and needs. Their shoppers wanted greater convenience, increased enjoyment and unrestricted access to product details, prices and styles. Both companies delivered – and in a manner that allowed them to build stronger brand identities.

The sales breakthrough for Alex and Ani began late last year when a mobile POS system developed by Mobiquity was installed and integrated with the retailer’s existing POS system from VIOPSYS.

For Tea Collection, which brings a distinctly international flair to boys and girls apparel, significant gains in traffic and sales came from their association with Revel Touch.

“What we’re learning is that the iPad app is providing the romance and magic of the in-store experience,” says Tea Collection co-founder and CEO Leigh Rawdon. “It has that same experience of shopping in a well-merchandised store, with the detail and convenience of [online] shopping.”

Seamless transactions
Alex and Ani has 28 locations, dozens of shop-within-a-shop concepts and a brisk e-commerce business. The company’s products include a broad assortment of bangles, necklaces, earrings and rings, all made in America and featuring a low entry-level price point. In-store, there’s a heavy emphasis on creating personal relationships between associates and shoppers.

“Our customers are greeted by trained retail associates who spend time with them before they shop,” says CTO Joe Lezon. “They educate them on our products and ask why they are shopping. They guide customers to the products that will meet their needs and then ... bring the customer to the cash register where someone else would check them out.” But that relationship between the customer and the associate “was being severed at the checkout,” he says.

Alex and Ani began using Mobiquity’s mobile checkout system during the 2012 holiday season. The system, which allows the same associate to complete customer transactions quickly and seamlessly, helped the retailer see a 318 percent increase in sales.

“The customer may not even know she is being checked out,” Lezon says, speaking of the ease of the process. “The average checkout time is just 90 seconds.”

About one in four of Mobiquity’s clients are traditional retailers operating bricks-and-mortar stores and e-commerce, “and it is growing,” says company CMO Lori Cohen. Priorities for most of Mobiquity’s clients begin with the need to integrate mobile apps with existing business systems. Then there is the need to review the existing technical architecture for compatibility and capacity. Lastly, there is the issue of costs that accompany possible updates, along with careful consideration of the user experience.

“That user experience is a big focus for us,” says Dan Speca, Mobiquity’s director of user experience. “It’s difficult to take a personal experience in a store and extend that to a digital experience.”

Mobiquity’s December 2012 report on mobile shopping trends underscored that consumers take a variety of paths to complete their purchases. “When we meet with customers we are hearing [about] smartphones and the tablet, with no uptick for the tablet,” Speca says, “although we are aware that among age 50 and older consumers, the tablet is the fastest growing.”

“For us it reinforced the omni-channel strategy,” Cohen says. “It also showed [consumers’] dissatisfaction with the mobile experiences, and the need for retailers to reinforce their brand with a meaningful experience.”

A focused brand strategy
Tea Collection’s colorful designs are available in 300 boutiques, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. A robust e-commerce operation accounts for a majority of its sales, and the company has embraced mobility as “essential,” says Rawdon.

“As devices have changed and access to the Internet has become so available on so many different devices, we need to be where our customers are,” she says. “They are bringing their devices to the store and shopping both channels in the same minute.” With the abundance of information available to consumers from an assortment of electronic media and in-store shopping, Rawdon says Tea Collection has taken a more focused brand strategy.

“With consumers bouncing around from one channel to another, we have become a big believer in one brand, Tea, which has served us well,” she says. “This is who we are in stores and online.”

As the impact of mobility — in consumers’ mindset and increasing sources of technology — became more apparent, Tea Collection began working with Revel Touch.

“We sit in Silicon Valley ... and we have a reputation for doing new things,” Rawdon says. Revel Touch founder Mar Hershenson “understood shopping and a mom’s point of view, and that the tablet, iPhone and laptop were different — and she understood what made them different. It didn’t feel formulaic.”

Since that initial presentation from Revel Touch, Tea Collection has generated incremental sales in its e-commerce operations and is positioned to benefit from the next cycle of changes in the market.

“Our traffic and sales from mobile are growing at a dramatic pace,” Rawdon says. “We have a lot of momentum and we have a great product assortment and brand that our customers are crazy about.”

Revel Touch has enabled Tea Collection “to try new ways to present our brand and our merchandise to the customer, new ways to tell our story and integrate that story into our regular website,” she says. “They are very focused on the tablet — and down the road, as computers change, it will be incredibly important that we have a successful touch interface experience.”

Phones, laptops and tablets
In the store, “consumers are looking for data — products, pricing and reviews,” says Joe Davis, CEO of Revel Touch. “They’re more likely to rely on their phone for research, to snap a photo reminder or to reach out to their social network for validation. The interaction is quick, tactical and utilitarian.”

At home, however, the tablet is rapidly eclipsing the PC. “Consumers are willing to spend much more time and they’re looking to be entertained and indulged while they curl up on a sofa or bed,” he says. “It’s the opposite of the smartphone experience.”

Successful retail strategies for harnessing the power of mobility begin with a strong focus on the consumer experience, and include the necessity for retailers to align their mobility programs with typical purchase patterns, along with adapting marketing programs to mobile, Davis says.

Bill Youstra, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Revel Touch, underscores the importance of touch as a key factor driving mobility trends.

Research into usage patterns of smartphones, laptops and tablets show prime usage times for tablets are from 6 to 10 p.m., at home. “Consumers are buying tablets like crazy and stealing time away from laptops. They are ... using their tablet to thumb through a catalog, with the TV on in the background,” Youstra says.

“There is an intimacy between the human and these devices — the touch, the fun, the playful nature of the tablet, all behavioral things,” he says. “The tablet is better positioned for that physical contact, which is an opportunity and a threat for retailers: The opportunity is to leverage this expressive platform and redefine the relationship between the retailer and the consumer. The threat is that as consumers move on to this device — especially the millennials — it is the device of choice.”

Youstra describes consumers’ shopping experiences on the tablet as being a “more expressive canvas” for the retailer.

“There is this client reaction of, ‘OMG, I can launch in eight to 12 weeks and run this myself, with my existing brand assets, photography and social content,’” he says. “And it has an enduring value because the data increases the retailers’ understanding of their consumers.”