Merchants mull best ways to influence consumers through mobile devices

We spend a lot of time on our smartphones every day.

While this isn’t a profound statement, it’s one that merchants are cognizant of because it affects how and when they conduct business with their customers. The question for merchants becomes this: How do we use mobile devices of any kind to influence purchase decisions?

This was a question myself and two industry executives attempted to answer during a panel at the recent CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit. And what we found, at least at the moment, is this is still a work in progress for many retailers and there are few examples of merchants that do it “right.”

Of course, we mentioned the usual suspects such as Starbucks. The panel, which included Rob Walter from RetailMeNot and Sean McCormack from Harley Davidson, also spoke about retailers such as Target in the context of location-based mobile marketing.

The problem at the moment, we agreed, is that not many retailers take advantage of how to reach consumers on their mobile devices when they walk into a store.

“The biggest challenge that every retailer has is that when someone walks into a physical location, you don’t know if they walked in and you don’t know what they’re doing,” said McCormack, who is the CTO at Harley. “But when customers are on a website, every metric in the world you can think of is recorded. I think the challenge as retailers is how do we develop those same analytics in a physical world that’s mostly tied to mobile devices.”

McCormack did mention the use of bracelets with RFID technology embedded into them to help make that digital/physical connection. Harley has used such bracelets at its popup events that have a retail element.

McCormack’s RFID bracelet example immediately brought to my mind Disney’s MagicBand, which is a contactless wristband Disney created for its park and hotel patrons to use as a room key, theme park ticket and payment account.

“If you’re looking for a good example of how technology can propel interaction, look at the Disney MagicBand,” I said during the panel.

But something like a wearable does bring more challenges to merchants because it’s another device consumers have at their disposal.

“There’s not a true silver bullet [for that issue] just because you have people on multiple devices at multiple locations,” said Walter from RetailMeNot. “For us, we’ve partnered with retailers who use single-use codes [to combat that issue]. There are companies doing location-based attributions.”

It’s a work in progress for everyone. Even McCormack admits Harley is still behind others when it comes to mobile interactions.

“We’re victims of our own curse, which is that we have some of the most loyal followers out there and because of that as a company, we haven’t had to do that much engagement because consumers came to us,” he said. “We’re starting to shift now. We have a lot of stuff coming in the pipeline regarding how to best connect with the half million people who come to our events.”

Some other key views from the panel included:

  • McCormack on IoT’s role in retail: “How can I interact with this product without having to involve a salesperson? We’ve done some specific experimentation with clothing.”
  • Walter on enabling consumers to pay with points in mobile wallets: “I just did this a couple of weeks ago where I linked a points credit card to my Amazon account. It was easy to pay with points that I honestly didn’t know I had. That’s where it gets really interesting where it’s retailer-specific payments solution and that to me is where the innovation can come in.”
  • Myself on a global mobile payments standard: “It’s hard to make a global standard because you’ll need to have multiple companies come together with different methods of doing a mobile payment because it’s not just about the NFCs of the world. You still have QR codes, direct carrier billing and mobile money schemes like M-Pesa in Africa.”
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