Mobile can be the ‘personalization lens’ for offline stores

Mobilize 2012 Aaron Emigh shopkick Marc Parrish Barnes & Noble Gibu Thomas Walmart

Online shopping shows customers are craving personalized shopping experiences – and mobile can help inject that same, data-driven digital enhancement in to bricks-and-mortar stores, panelists at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference agreed.

“You can’t reconfigure a physical space to personalize it,” Shopkick co-founder Aaron Emigh told a panel on the topic. “But you can have the mobile phone be a personalization lens when they walk in to that store… importing the things that are best about shopping online in to the physical world where they weren’t available before.”

For example, Barnes & Noble loyalty and retention marketing VP Marc Parrish said a trick the book retailer borrowed from online personalization – printing custom book recommendations on till receipts – had “increased our sales a significant amount.”

Such customization may be easy in the data-rich web world, but “takes a lot of grunt in the back” for physical stores, Parrish said. Walmart mobile and digital SVP Gibu Thomas agreed that physical stores presented personalization hurdles because, often, the necessary data is stored in big, slow data warehouses rather than on speedy web servers where it can make a difference.

There are other ways in which mobile can blend online and offline retail. Thomas said an in-store option introduced to Walmart’s mobile app, which had previously majored on delivering an out-of-store retail experience, was quickly used by 60 percent of users within two weeks – enhancing the usability of Walmart’s hundreds of real-world sites.

In fact, portable devices are uniquely placed in the retail chain, Emigh said: “Mobile is the only device that’s with the consumer all the way through that path to purchase.”

All of which is encouraging retailers to think more online. Thomas: “The challenge is – a lot of retailers are very good at retail – but we have to develop muscles that make us as good a digital as we are in retail.

“Things move so fast, you have to get in a mode of iterative development, be open to some things not working well.”

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.

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