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Bricks & Mortar Should Embrace and Not Fear The Savvy Mobile Shopper

It’s (once again) a great day to be a Boston sports fan.  The late (and great) Myra H. Kraft must have called in a few favors last night when the New England Patriots squeaked by the Baltimore Ravens for a spot in the forthcoming Super Bowl.  Hopefully she also called in a few favors so that they play better in two weeks than how they performed yesterday (my nails are gone).  In any case, a new week begins, and hence time to think about enterprise mobility.

One of my favorite members of our (not so) little community posted a very interesting link onto Twitter this morning regarding how Target is looking to stop potential customers from “Showrooming.”  The Wall Street Journal describes “showrooming” as

“when shoppers come into a store to see a product in person, only to buy it from a rival online, frequently at a lower price.”

While the article doesn’t make the connection explicitly, I suspect that Target is targeting (all puns intended) the increasing number of shoppers who are showrooming (I call them savvy buyers) and using applications on their smartphones that let them scan a UPC symbol to see if they can find a better price for the product elsewhere.  This is a real issue for traditional brick and mortar retailers that will typically have higher prices than their exclusively online competitors due to the “burdens” of having all the costs associated to the physical point of sale.

So what is Target trying to do to prevent showrooming?  It’s allegedly asking its suppliers to create separate SKUs that are unique to Target….which means comparison shopping becomes that much more difficult.

This article made me think about two things.  First and foremost, I think back to what my uncle told me a few years ago in a 100% non-business related discussion.

Adapt…or die.

My second thought relates to how I have shared my view (ad nauseum) that mobility will impact and be impacted by every facet of the workplace.  In this case, sales are being potentially reduced by mobile technologies.

The traditional big corporate mindset is to erect barriers to such situations.  It’s analogous to the walled gardens that wireless carriers had created historically to lock in customers….uhmm, I mean to provide “exclusive” content.  Look how well that worked out in the long run.

Instead, I think brick and mortar retailers need to adapt to and embrace the mobile trend.  No, I don’t think they are going to die tomorrow because of mobile technologies, and yes, I do realize that they are increasingly using more and more mobile technology in their actual stores, but I am still not seeing tremendous adoption of mobile as a B2C channel where the brick and mortar stores can augment their interaction (and sales) with customers via the mobile channel…because, in the end, that’s what it can be.

Sure there will always be someone that can perhaps provide a product for less money, but I am sure many people feel like me that there is still much value in purchasing things in a physical store.  Apple would certainly tend to agree with me on that front.  Additionally, I may be in the minority here, but when I purchase things that are not CDs, books or the like, I actually prefer to buy them in a store because I can (more) easily return them should I not be satisfied with the purchase.

So back to the mobile opportunity.  While Target does have a mobile app for iOS and Android, I feel as if Target could do so many more things with its mobile application.  Walgreens’ mobile application for example lets you refill your prescription by scanning your old bottle…and you’ll still go make the pick-up at the store (and hopefully make other purchases).  Best Buy lets you make purchases off your mobile…and I can even see the weekly ad (Target does this too), or call the nearest store directly from my app.  They are looking for ways to more deeply connect and interact with their customers on their mobile devices.  I would suggest they consider taking it one step further by providing mobile exclusive  (not web exclusive) deals that can be purchased on the device, and then you decide how you acquire it…meaning whether you pick it up at a store, or have it delivered to you.  That’s leveraging mobility.

Now mind you, I’m not suggesting that is the only thing they can do (I am not a retail strategist), but I am suggesting they seek ways to embrace mobility end-to-end as a long term growth strategy, as opposed to fearing its short term impact on sales.


  1. Posted January 24, 2012 at 04:38 | Permalink

    Another advantage of physical stores is that you can pick-up the purchased items immediately… :o )

    Making it hard to track down prices from other sources is just delaying the problem… Surprised Target is going down that track!

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  2. Posted January 24, 2012 at 10:24 | Permalink

    During my University days I worked in a large UK Electrical store and one day an Internet electrocal retailer opened up next door offering the same products at their “Lower Internet Prices.”

    Rather than just sulking and moaning at our customers who quite rightly wanted the best deal, we would match all of their prices, provided the item was in stock on their website.

    Retailers do not have massive margins these days on electical goods, but they still have enough room to offer goods at the same price as their online value in many cases.

    Alternatively they need to look at alternative ways of adding value to the sale for the customer.

    I always check prices on my phone but I will also always give the store the opportunity to match the price I have found. In my experience most will and any that don’t are foolish.

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