informa
News

Social, Mobile Meet Shopping: Retailers Must Scramble

If this week's National Retail Federation Big Show is any indication, social and mobile commerce are remaking the way we shop. IBM, Epicor, Microsoft and Microstrategy help retailers adjust for the trend--and profit from it.
Breakthrough Technologies For Retailing
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Breakthrough Technologies For Retailing
Retailers already have a long list of multichannel marketing options including retail stores, websites, email campaigns, contact centers, kiosks, catalogs, and other methods. So adding two more channels is no big deal, right?

Wrong.

If this week's National Retail Federation Big Show in New York is any indication, social and mobile commerce are remaking the way we shop.

Retailers are looking for any possible edge to solicit product and store recommendations on social networks, to tap into the wealth of information and opinion shared by consumers on Facebook and Twitter, and to tie mobile apps into customer databases and loyalty programs. The theme at the show is "engage and evolve," a nod to social and mobile commerce trends discussed here at length in keynotes and breakout sessions.

[ Want more on the social trend? Read 10 Biggest Social Business Stories Of 2011. ]

There's a justified fear that those retailers who don't use mobile and social to their advantage will be abused by channel-savvy customers. They've seen what customers are saying online and want to be able to understand and change the conversation. And they've seen customers in their aisles researching products and price checking competitors on their smartphones.

Tech vendors exhibiting here are pitching software and consultative insight like so many car salesmen, praying on the hopes, aspirations, and insecurities of retailers who fear they're missing out of on the trends. Highlights from leading enterprise applications and analytics vendors include the following announcements:

IBM probes the social consumer. Having surveyed a whopping 28,500 consumers, IBM released a study here that showed that consumers are more than willing to share with retailers through social networks. In exchange for a better, more personalized shopping experience, consumers will tell all about their media consumption (75%); age, race, gender, and income (73%); name and address (61%); and lifestyle details such as hobbies and other interests (59%).

What's more, consumers told IBM they want to receive more communications--not less--from retailer if it can be delivered through their preferred media channel in a relevant way.

IBM also probed some 1.2 million Facebook updates, Twitter tweets, and social videos using its Cognos Consumer Insight social-media-analysis technology to find out more about brand sentiments. One key finding was that the discussions around some brands is all about the transaction (price, availability, where to purchase, and so on), whereas other brands evoke lifestyle-related terminology (self-improvement, style, love, "I can't live without this brand"). With this kind of insight, manufacturers and retailers can tune their marketing messages or try to change their image and consumer perception.

Epicor mobile app ties into CRM data. Epicor Software introduced Epicor Retail Clienteling, a tablet app optimized for the Apple iPad and designed to deliver customer insight from Epicor's CRM application. Epicor's CRM-integrated Clientelling app creates a "personal shopper" experience by exposing the sales associate to the customer's recent buying, shopping, and service history captured in the CRM system's multi-channel customer database. Customer insight is no longer confined to back-office computers or point-of-sale terminals.

Microsoft collapses channel silos. The customer bought it online, but in-store employees can't see those transaction records because that's a separate system. Or perhaps the marketing department launched a big promotion, but store employees are caught unaware and balk a honoring a discount. These are the sorts of siloed-channel problems that plague many retailers. Microsoft says Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail, launched on Tuesday, eliminates these problems by ensuring a consistent platform from the supply chain all the way to the point of sale. AX also supports integration with third-party systems, says Microsoft, and the modular architecture ensures that custom connections and interfaces don't break when you upgrade to the next generation of the ERP app.

Microstrategy taps into Facebook data. What if you could tie customer Facebook accounts with their loyalty programs? Microstrategy is offering mobile and social tools to help companies do just that. Alert is a mobile app platform upon which organizations can build engaging mobile applications tied into loyalty programs and Facebook accounts. Wisdom is a corresponding tool for marketers that lets them segment, analyze, and target customers by applying predictive analytics and analyses against data aggregated from loyalty card members and Facebook friends.

Clothing retailer Guess is using Alert and Wisdom to improve interactions with and understanding of customers. Guess is offering a just-launched, Alert-based mobile app to its more than 4 million loyalty card members. The app will let users see their loyalty points and awards status, lookup purchase history, scan barcodes for more detailed product information, and check out a "Look Book" showing the latest merchandise and related accessories. Customers who share credentials can log on through Facebook and share their likes and network with friends.

Using Wisdom, Guess will apply predictive analytics to segment customers, send targeted campaigns with cross-sell and up-sell recommendations, and get a better understanding of education levels, incomes and customer likes, such as favorite songs or concerts customers in various markets will be attending.

There's no doubt that mobile and social make multichannel marketing that much more challenging, but according to retail futurist Nita Rollins of Resource Interactive, who spoke at NRF on a panel on "Trends to Capitalize on for 2012," it's creating more opportunity for retailers.

"What we know now from dozens of reports is that the multichannel shopper is more valuable because they spend more and buy more frequently," said Rollins, who added that by 2014, analysts expect 53% of purchases to come from online or Web-, mobile- and social-influenced consumers. "There's a lot of pre-shopping going on and digital is the first step on the path to purchase. It's our job to ensure that digital either closes the deal immediately or enhances the in-store experience."

Nominate your company for the 2012 InformationWeek 500--our 24rd annual ranking of the nation's very best business technology innovators. Deadline is April 27. Organizations with $250 million or more in revenue may apply for the 2012 InformationWeek 500 now.

Editor's Choice
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer