Retailers Drive Biz With Mobile Sites

NEW YORK — This holiday season, footwear firms seeking to connect with shoppers are reaching for the phone.

Mobile devices are increasingly becoming a popular — and profitable — sales vehicle, and this season retailers have unveiled an array of new apps and marketing initiatives to keep sales ringing in through the New Year.

The number of consumers expected to make a purchase via a mobile device will increase to 13 percent, up from 10 percent in 2009, according to Experian Marketing’s 2010 Holiday Marketer report.

Bullish on this uptick, eBay told Footwear News it expects to generate $1.5 billion in gross merchandise volume through its mobile platform in 2010, compared with $600 million in 2009.

Other companies are also upbeat.

“Industry-wide, we expect mobile commerce to grow this holiday season and continue to grow well into the future,” said David Seifert, VP of e-commerce marketing at Finish Line Inc.

For the holiday season, Indianapolis-based Finish Line added a checkout feature to its mobile site and will also participate in Google’s new local availability system that allows users to see what products are offered in certain stores.

Meanwhile, for the first time, Sears’ holiday Wish Book will be available on the iPad, mobile Web, and Facebook. Imran Jooma, president of e-commerce for Sears Holdings Corp., said interactive communication is a way to strengthen all the company’s sales channels. “Mobile platforms are like connective tissue: It acts as a bridge to online and offline sales,” he said. “Not every customer is going to shop in a Sears store, and we want to make sure we are where the customers are.”

High-end retailer Neiman Marcus also took its 2010 Christmas Book to the iPad this year. In early November, the company unveiled its gifts app in the Apple iTunes store. For each consumer download, the retailer will donate $1 to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Henderson, Nev.-based Zappos.com also timed the launch of its iPad app to coincide with the holiday season. The online retailer’s objective was to create an alternative way of exposing customers to all its product categories, as well as to create a shopping experience similar to the website.

“Our goal was to [find] a different way for customers to interact with Zappos during the holidays and make consumers aware of other products we sell, like clothing and housewares,” said Zappos product manager and app designer Jaimee Newberry.

After one month of the app being on the market, Newberry said, the firm had already started to see promising trends. “One of our weakest sales days on Zappos.com is Sunday, and now we’re finding that Sunday is our strongest sales day on the iPad,” she said. “The device lends itself to casual interaction and it seems to be filling a space that we weren’t addressing on the website.”

Payless ShoeSource was also seeking to strengthen its holiday branding when it launched a mobile app in October.

“Our iPhone app is an additional, important channel through which we can tell our product and brand stories,” said President and CEO LuAnn Via. Consumers can use the app to view Payless’ full catalog, get daily discounts and purchase products. In the first week alone, the app had been downloaded 29,000 times.

In addition to offering a different channel to sell, companies are also finding marketing opportunities through mobile devices. Early this month, Steve Madden bowed a mobile marketing platform through digital firm Mogreet that relies on text messaging.

“Our studies have found the average consumer reads and responds to a text message within three minutes,” Mogreet CEO James Citron said. “If a [Steve Madden retail] location needs to really get the Black Friday shoppers in, or is having a really bad sales day, they can send a text and virtually guarantee the entire audience is going to see it and respond within minutes.”

Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience for Steve Madden, said that using text messaging instead of a mobile app helps the brand reach a larger audience, including people who do not own a smartphone.

“We recognized that the mobile device really cuts across all the marketing experiences,” said Koven. “It’s an opportunity for us to listen and learn and understand how consumers want to access information that shapes the purchasing decision.”

Madden also has a mobile website that had generated more than $520,000 in sales as of Oct. 25, since its launch in mid-April. And the brand expects it could impact other areas of the business. “We think [mobile commerce] will help enhance all the sales channels to perform better,” Koven said.

Larry Joseloff, VP of content for the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org, said the industry is still far from seeing mobile commerce become commonplace, but it will be a major factor in retail.

“Mobile commerce is really still in its infancy; it’s going to take a while for people to get more comfortable with it and for technology to improve,” he said. “But it does have great potential to enhance the customer experience across multiple sales channels.”

Still, Mike Gatti, executive director of the Retail Advertising & Marketing Association, said mobile commerce is becoming increasingly important.

“At this time of year, brands have to pull everything out of their arsenal,” Gatti said.

“Marketers have been preaching for decades how important it is to build trust with customers,” he said. “Through mobile communication, brands can take that trust to the next level. [Mobile] is the next level of customer service.”

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