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New mobile blueprint provides fresh insights

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“If there’s one thing we’ve learned about mobile applications, it’s that retailers don’t want to share the space,” says David Dorf, Director of Technology for Oracle. “Retailers want to control their customer experience and they want to brand it to themselves.”

In that light, NRF has been working since early last year on a Mobile Retail Initiative focused on helping retailers enter the mobile space. And in June of 2010, NRF released the first Mobile Retailing Blueprint - a best practices report to enhance the industry’s efforts in the area.

At Retail’s BIG Show this week, NRF released the second version of the Mobile Retailing Blueprint – and in his capacity as Chair of the Customer Subcommittee, David Dorf shared a few insights into what the new version can do for retail and what we’ve learned since the first release last June.

With the rapid evolution of mobile retailing, NRF is already launching the second version of the Mobile Blueprint at Retail’s BIG Show. What’s changed in the past 6 months since the release of the first blueprint?

One of the big areas of innovation is mobile payments, and in version one we really only had time to focus on NFC. In version two, we were able to describe some additional alternative payment approaches, and better organize the technologies into “remote payments” and “proximity payments” groupings. We also did lots of work re-organizing certain sections, and rewriting others to be more clear.

You’ve had a substantial role in NRF’s Mobile Retail Initiative as a subcommittee chairman. What are three key areas retailers should be investing in at this stage in the mobile retail game?

On the consumer side, retailers should consider an m-commerce app that allows consumers to buy via their mobile phones. Right now I think native apps are easiest to use, but Web capabilities are rapidly advancing and may eventually lessen the need for native apps. Additionally, retailers should closely monitor the emerging mobile payment technologies, but it’s still too early to commit to any of the alternative methods yet. There’s great potential in tracking store visits by identified consumers, so providing check-in functionality with some sort of coupon as incentive is also a good idea.

On the operations side, equipping stores with mobile POS increases a retailer’s ability to handle peak demand, and also facilities more intimate consumer interactions. Apple, Disney and Victoria’s Secret have done a great job of getting sales associates out from behind the register and into the aisles. Mobile self-checkout might be applicable in certain situations too.

The relationship between solution providers and retailers is critical when it comes to advancing mobile technology. Any advice on how both parties can nurture this relationship most effectively?

Both sides need to collaborate on a comprehensive long-term strategy that includes all channels and is maintainable. Too often I see one department of a retailer implement a mobile solution that is not coordinated with other departments and therefore other channels; nor does it leverage the standards established by IT. They get to market quickly, but they end of up with a solution that’s difficult to maintain over the long haul.

What’s your definition of “omni-channel” retailing?

There’s a great diagram in the Blueprint that shows how the industry has moved from single channel to multi-channel to cross-channel and eventually attaining nirvana (yeah, that’s the term in the Blueprint) with omni-channel. Omni-channel is really about each channel “knowing” everything about the other channels. All the channels work from the same database of products, prices, promotions, etc. as well as customer information. Then we achieve channel transparency and consumers will focus on interacting with brands, not channels. Mobile is part of that big picture.

Recent NRF survey data showed that over one-quarter of shoppers used their mobile device to make holiday purchases in 2010, but more than 60 percent used their device to browse for gifts. How can retailers bridge the sales gap?

Browsing on a smartphone is easy enough, but some shoppers don’t complete the purchase because they aren’t confident in the security of m-commerce or they just find it cumbersome to use a tiny keyboard. Retailers need to make m-commerce checkout as simple as possible, including the ability to share a cart across channels. Some shoppers will never make a purchase via mobile, and that’s okay as long as they eventually make the purchase via another channel.

What do you think the future of mobile looks like for retail? Any predictions on what we might see five, ten or fifteen years down the road?

The next generation of smartphones will be equipped with NFC chips that have the potential of storing loyalty data, coupons, and payment information so we’ll probably stop carrying around wallets. (The mobile phone will probably replace our house and car keys as well.) In the distant future, mobile phones with morph into wearable computers and augmented reality will be the norm. We’re already seeing bits and pieces of this now.

As a Retail’s BIG Show veteran, what keeps you coming back each year?

I definitely enjoy talking to retailers and collaborating on solutions, but my favorite thing is to walk the show floor and see what new innovations are brewing, especially at the small booths in the back.