Q&A: Yuchun Lee, VP of enterprise marketing managements, IBM Industry Solutions

Yuchun Lee, VP of enterprise marketing management at IBM Industry Solutions, on why mobile is a channel not to be ignored.

Q: Why should enterprises optimize their mobile channels?

A: One of the key trends happening with consumers is the adoption of additional devices that make their purchases and research easier. It behooves a company to leverage that additional channel that’s available and really gain a better understanding of what behaviors look like in that channel. Also leverage the eyeballs that have shifted to that channel to better market to and serve customers. All the trends indicate mobile will be the most influential channel in the near future.

Q: What’s the top trend in mobile buying affecting retail sales?

A: There was a heavy uptick in the second half of last year, which was a breakout year for mobile as a channel. During the Thanksgiving shopping season, we found Web traffic in North America was initiated more and more through mobile to the tune of 15% of all sessions. That’s a tripling of the rate we saw in 2010. We saw sales [made] from devices double, from about 5.5% to 11% last year. Within that trend, what’s surprising for me is how fast iPad as a device sort of swam upstream to capture the number two spot in the amount of conversions happening in the mobile channel. Of all the conversions, two-thirds collectively are from Apple devices, of which iPhone eked out iPad by a tiny bit.

Q: In general, does brand sentiment differ when shopping via mobile versus in-store?

A: One of the key things in retail is rethinking the store as a place where you immerse the consumer in the full customer experience. People are starting to think of retail stores as a place to showcase a brand. A mobile device is one of convenience, speed — though depending on what you’re selling, the strength and weaknesses of these channels differ. There’s no real comparison to the richness of the in-store experience. To the enterprise however, there’s a real difference in cost, but mobile is more scalable.

Q: Should brands leverage mobile buying tendencies to increase sales in brick-and-mortars — and if so, how?

A: Absolutely. One of the key revelations is when you touch the consumer consistently across multiple channels all the time, the conversion rate shoots up, especially when those interactions are influenced by analytics on the backend. You can integrate the [mobile] research experience into a store, provide online reviews, ratings — what we call the earned media aspect of the product. The danger is if your product isn’t competitive from a quality or price perspective; so that raises the bar on those products.

Brands should [also] work on their mobile strategy to provide information, which you could give to the in-store associates. [Compared to] an online experience, if you pick out an item, the online algorithm would tell me what other people who bought that item were interested in. Imagine an associate having that information on the spot.

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