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The Consumer Connection

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If you’re a numbers person, the figures are compelling: There are now more than one billion smartphones in use worldwide, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

If you’re more of a see-it-for-yourself type, spend 20 minutes in your local Starbucks watching customers as they pay for their lattes and wait for the barista to make their drinks. Chances are more than half will use a smartphone while they’re in the coffee shop.

To say smartphones — and their first cousin, the mobile tablet — are ubiquitous seems like the understatement of the year. The mobile technology space is growing at such a rapid pace it’s become a full-time job for retailers just trying to keep up. Still, it’s imperative that companies find a way. Forrester Research estimates that m-commerce will reach $12 billion domestically by the end of this year, and some predict that figure could double in less than three years.

Yet while commerce via smartphones and tablets keeps growing, retail executives are grappling with the goals, opportunities and ROI of mobile. Forrester finds that retailer investment levels remain modest; half of the companies surveyed spent less than $100,000 on smartphone projects, with 14 percent spending nothing. When it comes to tablet initiatives, 75 percent spent less than $100,000 — and 18 percent spent nothing.

Holding retailers back is a slew of challenges ranging from unclear business objectives to a rapidly evolving mobile landscape. That’s where NRF’s newly minted Integrated Mobile Initiative (IMI) comes in. Launched in August, it serves as a collective source for information about the challenges and opportunities that exist within mobile retailing. Led by Vicki Cantrell, NRF’s senior vice president of communities and executive director of Shop.org, IMI brings together the expertise of an external task force of retail companies and solution providers. Part of the beauty of the IMI is that it combines the knowledge of retail executives across multiple disciplines — including IT, marketing, payments and loss prevention — in the quest to explore and understand mobile from every angle.

Deploying mobile technologies in the store and understanding how shoppers want to interact with your brand via mobile devices is no simple task. Mobile engagement has been known to trigger a complete rethinking of priorities; it also requires significant capital investment and an ample amount of patience. The landscape of devices is complex; questions about operating systems, mobile websites vs. mobile apps and mobile payment providers are plentiful. Can BYOD work in the retail landscape? Are digital wallets years down the road — or tomorrow’s must have? How will shoppers use their mobile devices inside and outside the store? STORES’ Special Report provides some insight.

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