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How mobile marketing is turning the consumer shopping cycle on its head

Shopping habits used to be so predictable: consumers would head to a brick and mortar during daylight hours, buy a product and bring it home in a bag. Today there isn't a pattern to how consumers shop. Research shows that, with mobile devices in hand, they're always shopping — be it at home, on the subway or at work and those in the mobile marketing space need to be at the ready to serve them.

New buying habits demand new approaches to consumer marketing, says Chuck Martin, CEO of business research firm Mobile Future Institute and author of Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer. Under the old "path to purchase" model, customers proceeded through a predictable series of steps that ended in a sale. The start-to-finish process made it much easier to know when and how to capture consumers' attention. A salesman would approach a browsing customer, offer to answer any question or provide suggestions, and then escort the customer to the nearest cash register. In marketing speak, first came "awareness," then "interest," then "desire" and, finally, "action" (the buy).

Interactions Without Beginning or End

"Today it's not just about one sale," says Martin, noting that consumers are on the lookout 24/7 for buying opportunities. "It's about the continual process of sales and interactions."

Martin says retailers are beginning to wake up to this new reality, and are learning how to reach consumers at multiple points throughout their day — whether they're physically in a store or not. Here, Martin explains six key moments in the mobile shopping experience during which marketers can convert customer interest into a purchase:

  1. The setup — or pre-buy: Consumers often research products on their mobile devices before deciding to buy one. A recent survey by Google found that 90 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones before shopping in the store to find special deals, production information, availability and product reviews. Rue La La, an online shopping site, targets its customers at this stage by offering online flash sales via push notifications every day at 11 a.m. "They are essentially hijacking their customer, so he doesn't have to leave his home," says Martin.
  2. The move — or in transit: Geo-location technologies are enabling mobile marketing professionals to reach willing consumers based on where they are at any given moment. This allows marketers to deliver targeted messages like a time-specific offer to a consumer who is near a store location and has indicated he's open to mobile messages. For example, a customer on his way to his local grocery store might receive an alert that fresh strawberries are on sale.
  3. The push — or on location: While one in three shoppers uses her smartphone to find product information, consumers still value interacting with salespeople and actual products in a brick-and-mortar store, according to the Google survey. Macy’s, the department store giant, engages with customers in the store during the holiday season by encouraging them to use QR codes to view celebrity videos, or “backstage passes,” that offer fashion tips and style advice. The goal is two-fold: to keep customers in the store longer and to reinforce the Macy’s brand through positive customer experiences.
  4. The play — or selection process: When consumers shopping at a store location are perusing, say, a stack of back-to-school sweaters, marketers can tap into a consumer’s location and deliver an automatic discount on a same-day purchase. To do so, however, requires a consumer to share her location with the brand, including her purchase and browsing history. Google found that almost half of women surveyed would share their location in exchange for a $5 store credit. For a $25 store credit, 83 percent would opt allow the company to track their location.
  5. The wrap — or point of purchase: Marketers can encourage consumers to complete the purchase with offers and related promotional values via mobile platforms and self-checkout counters. A mother who is buying pencils, binders and lunch bags might receive a discounted offer on, say, binder paper or thermos bottles.
  6. The takeaway — or post-purchase: One thing marketers can bank on in the social media age is customer feedback: If she isn't satisfied, she'll let her social networks know. According research by First Data, a provider of online payment systems, half of shoppers worldwide post reviews online after purchasing a product, and 81 percent of smartphone users seek advice from social media sites before making a purchase. Here marketers have an opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship by acknowledging their online reviews and addressing any issues they may be having with the product.

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