Not your mother’s holiday shopping

The holidays are fast approaching, meaning it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, cross our fingers, and set our plans in motion. Holiday sales as a whole are about 20% of the year’s total, with some verticals approaching 40%, making the five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas hugely important for retailers across all platforms. Marketers should look at the holiday season as the time to start building relationships that will make next year successful, while improving revenue this year.

What’s different now is the impact mobile has on the shopping experience and customer loyalty. Think about it. Do you know anyone who would accept anything less than virtually real-time response on a mobile app? Immediate credit for purchases? Updated profiles in real time? You can consider mobile the consumer’s first screen. Real-time expectations now permeate all customer touch points.

Need proof? Nearly 15% of traffic and 11% of retail sales come from mobile devices. Four out of five smartphone owners are now using their mobile devices to shop. There’s no longer a time gap between a consumer’s desire to learn about a product and getting information about it. Mobile’s real-time capabilities allow us to target customers in new, relevant ways, and also to know more about our customers than ever before.

With this mobile-dominance in mind, I’ve put together five suggestions for marketers going into this year’s holiday push:

1. Don’t skimp on mobile development. It’s worth restating: The efficacy of mass marketing is being increasingly drowned out by mobile’s ability to provide extremely relevant engagement. The best of these mobile loyalty programs are heavily data-driven, and, ultimately, allow marketers to collect detailed, relevant information about customers’ behavior and, when executed correctly, leverage what you know about your customers in smart, targeted marketing initiatives.

Ebay is unveiling a number of mobile-only initiatives this holiday season, from a shoppable gift guide to access to special inventory and deals. Their continued attention to mobile has already paid off: 800,000 new customers made their first eBay purchase via mobile in Q3.

2. Stand out from the noise. If you’ve put the time and money into developing a solid, data-driven mobile app, you’re not alone–there are plenty of apps crowding the space and distracting customers from your initiatives. Mobile must be engaging and entertaining to motivate people to use it. This year 26% of all apps downloaded were opened once and never used again. You need to focus on engaging customers over time and over the long term to keep them coming back.

3. Take an offensive and defensive position. You know all of those customers you’re furiously trying to acquire? Your customers look like that to someone else, meaning you need to take both offensive and defensive positions. Offensively, you’ll need a standout mobile app to draw in and grab new customers. Defensively, you must use the depth of knowledge about your customers to respond to their wants and needs aggressively.

But, you must use this knowledge wisely by providing customers both time-saving value and an entertaining experience. If you can add lock-in that makes it annoying to shift to a competitor’s app, even better. I may prefer Peet’s coffee, but Starbucks’ app makes it incredibly easy to keep going back.

4. Ask your customers for feedback. Because it’s so easy to screw up a mobile experience, we need to listen to what customers have to say about our offerings more than ever. This level of engagement and interest will not only differentiate you from your competitors, it will also allow you to figure out what works in your current marketing initiatives, and what could be better. Give them plenty of options to make themselves heard, and monitor all of the obvious channels.

5. Start planning for 2013. The 2012 holiday season really began four months ago. This is when we needed to begin establishing relationships, understanding preferences, and gauging shopping frequency so we can start adapting messaging and offers. Customers you acquire now generally won’t form a solid bond in time to dramatically change their holiday spending.

It’s not too early to begin thinking about the 2013 holiday rush. Geolocation and geofencing technologies have enormous potential, but haven’t yet fully transformed mobile marketing. With 74% of customers using-location based services on their smartphone, it’s a question of when, not if.

Really, 2012 is the last year that you can get away with a substandard mobile experience. Next year you have to be up to minimum consumer acceptable standards to even hope to compete. The “mobile influence factor” on retail purchases will increase to $689 billion by 2016. Pay attention to your competitors, listen to your customers, and start investing in your revamped mobile program on December 26.

Michael Greenberg is director of global solution strategy at Loyalty Lab at TIBCO Software.

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