Friday, December 17, 2010

More consumers are phoning it in.

I've posted frequently about the huge role that mobile will play in engaging customers and continue to hold the view that mobile is not an advertising medium; rather, it is best viewed as a customer service app or as an opt-in response device.

Yesterday's report in the WSJ documents the rapid increase in the number of consumers using smart phones not only for comparison shopping, but also to make the purchase.  We're heading to Wal-Mart to shop, then, while standing in the aisle, buying the product for less on Amazon.  According to the article, "on the Friday after Thanksgiving a year ago, consumers using mobile devices accounted for just 0.1% of visits to retail websites...this Black Friday, they accounted for 5.6%." 

Essentially, mobile phones have transformed Wal-mart's, Target's and Best Buy's stores into one massive showroom for Amazon. 

I believe a brick and mortar retailer's best response is to reimagine their stores, more as customer service centers that create a tangible value for buying there, not just shopping.  For example, whereas currently Best Buy charges a premium for its Geek Squad service, I can imagine a day when this added value is offered free of charge.  Amazon would have a hard time matching this.  I can also imagine a day when Best Buy takes a page from Apple's playbook and turns its Blue Shirts into an in-store genius bar.  I'm less likely to buy from Amazon if I know I can make an appointment at Best Buy to get a tutorial on my new gizmo.

Mobile's other big value is as an opt-in response device.  By replacing generic calls-to-action with a mobile invitation (e.g., SMS to learn more, QR code to view product demo), mobile has the ability to make moot the silly distinctions between online and offline.  To wit, is a magazine ad with an SMS call-to-action traditional or nontraditional? You get the point.