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What can small retailers do to take advantage of mobile without breaking the bank?
What can small retailers do to take advantage of mobile without breaking the bank?

6 ways for your business to win at mobile retail

MOST of your customers have smartphones. And they check them, on average, 110 times a day.

Recent figures suggests that Australia's mobile phone market is edging closer to saturation, with 75% of Australians having a smartphone.

It's a market you must not miss.

In this edited article from Michael Baker, former research director at the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, we give your regional business six ways to win with mobile retailing:


Over the past few years leading global retailers have been busy figuring out how to use technology to drive sales growth.

Mobile marketing, mobile selling and tracking the customer's mobile 'footprint' to learn more about them and to improve store layout have become bread-and-butter activities.

What if you are a smaller retailer? What kinds of things can you do to take advantage of mobile without breaking the bank?

1. Have a mobile strategy

It almost doesn't bear repeating because it's been said so many times already - businesses need to have a presence where their customers are, and their customers are constantly with their mobile devices. 

2. You need a mobile-friendly website

The number one priority in any mobile strategy is to get yourself a mobile-friendly website.

Most smartphone users will bail on you if your site is too slow to load or is too clunky to use easily when it is loaded. By 'too clunky' I mean the user needs to pinch and squeeze the screen to make content fit, or scroll horizontally and vertically to see stuff.

And it is no good having everything fit on the small screen if the text is so teensy-weensy it can't be read anyway.

Fully transactional mobile-friendly websites can cost $5000 and up to build. But there are services around that will build a non-transactional mobile site for you for less than $200.

This can act as the initial customer interface and include a link to the transactional desktop site you already have. It's not an ideal answer but it isn't a bad bridging solution.

Wes Garth, a director at Melbourne-based Red Pants Mobile Websites, puts it this way: "Smartphone usage by Australians for shopping is now really mainstream. But people are brutally quick to dump a website if it's slow to load or difficult to navigate. The flipside is that with a mobile-friendly site, your conversion rate goes through the roof."

Mobile business tips continue below


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3. Use cloud-based technologies

There's no question that SaaS (software as a service)  is one of the best opportunities for small business to stand technologically on an even footing with their counterparts at the big end of town.

Before the cloud, the fixed costs of buying technologies and housing them inside the four walls of the company were often prohibitive for small business adoption. This automatically gave big business a competitive advantage. With cloud-based SaaS, the costs of adoption have been slashed, making small business a viable player.

4. E-commerce export

E-commerce in Oz by itself may be too small a market for many kinds of niche products, like the limited-run designer leggings sold by Queensland's Black Milk Clothing, for example. But if you can aggregate pockets of demand around the world as Black Milk has done, you're really on to something.

5. Use technology to beat showrooming

If you're in a category where there is a lot of price competition, you are likely to be concerned about shoppers 'showrooming', that is, doing quick price comparisons on their phones before you get a chance to close the sale.

But there are technology solutions that let you access real-time intelligence about your competitors' prices and inventory position before a single customer even strolls into your shop. The technologies are SaaS (Software as a Service), meaning they are cloud-based and require no proprietary installation.

That not only reduces the hassle of implementation but lowers the cost, too. You just subscribe to the service and log on to a website to use it. (Do a search for "beat showrooming" to get started.)

This means you can be really strategic about pricing decisions rather than just cutting prices to the bone. For example, you may find that your price on a particular item is already lower than your next nearest competitor by 10 per cent, giving you the opportunity to actually raise your price substantially and still be the price leader while making a higher margin.

Or maybe you can set your price a little higher on an item because you find out that your main competitor is out of stock.

6. Personalise the shopping experience for customers

Imagine there's a woman in her 20s named Sienna who is lying on the couch at home browsing your website. She makes a list of the items she'd like to try on the next time she comes to your store.

She then uses her mobile to text you for an appointment with her favourite shop assistant and at the same time transmits her wishlist of things she will be trying on.

On the appointed day the assistant, who we'll call Jennifer, lays out the requested items in one of the dressing rooms ready for Sienna's arrival. She also pulls up a record of Sienna's purchase history, colour and size preferences. This information suggests to Jennifer a couple of additional items that Sienna might like to try. She places these in the dressing room, too.

When Sienna arrives at the store, a sensor identifies her smartphone, alerting Jennifer to her arrival and triggering a welcome text. Jennifer greets Sienna personally and takes her to try on the items in the dressing room.

Sienna wants a second opinion on one of them so she photographs herself and emails a friend with the photo attached. Moments later a text comes back from her friend saying she looks great but it might look even better in a darker colour. Jennifer says the other colour isn't available in the store that day but she immediately orders it online for shipping to Sienna's home address.

Sienna decides to buy a couple of other outfits and she uses her phone to post photos of herself on Facebook to share with her friends before she has even left the store.

A couple of days later she gets a follow-up text from Jennifer asking how she likes the items and including a digital coupon for a special offer. Finally, the item that was ordered online arrives at Sienna's house with a thank you note from Jennifer.

You get the idea - Sienna is a happy shopper and Jennifer has helped the retailer build a strong personal relationship with the customer. And it all revolved around smart use of the mobile phone.


From articles first published here and here 

Michael Baker was director of research at the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) from 1998-2003. In this role he oversaw dozens of retail industry research studies and surveys, and became one of the most respected shopping centre and retail analysts in the US. Now, based in Australia he is an independent economic consultant on retail projects in the pre-development and repositioning phases. Aside from consulting he serves as vice-chair of ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council.

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