The surprising thing about mobile isn’t its phenomenal worldwide growth or how quickly these increasingly capable devices, our constant companions, have become a personal and professional necessity. No, what’s surprising–shocking, really–is how little retailers are leveraging the opportunity. Specifically, retailers need tools to help them analyze the wealth of data coming from their mobile customers and prospects, and they need innovative ideas about the mobile-equipped retail shopping experience.

According to new U.S. data from marketing, media and brand researcher Millward Brown Digital, mobile visitors engage with top retailers twice as often as PC visitors (on average, 6.2 times per month vs. 2.9 times per month).  Think about it: That means marketers with effective mobile-purchase strategies and systems have more than twice as many opportunities to convert these shoppers. The research also found that mobile shoppers interact with more touchpoints, including search engines and social media sites, more intensively when shopping.

“The use of social sites during the shopping process reveals the inextricable link between mobile and social usage, and the need for marketers to approach planning in an integrated manner,” Millward Brown said in a statement.

“Hey, but we built an app a couple of years ago,” replies a now-defensive CIO at a retailer. Bravo for you. Bravo.

solution-Action_v2Unfortunately, branded apps are not–probably never were–where this vital competitive game is being played. For one thing, as Millward Brown found, usage patterns of mobile shoppers are not identical. For example, tablet users shopping for a new product are nearly twice as likely to go online from home. Smartphone users, by contrast, are likely to turn on their devices while they’re in a retail store. Given this, it should become immediately clear the “app” isn’t the key ingredient. Rather, it’s the knowledge about the consumer and consumer segments–who’s using a smartphone, who’s using tablet, when and how did they last interact with the brand?–linked to a marketing strategy.

Just as clear, marketing platforms must be able to respond to the flood of data coming from these mobile prospects. Opportunities for cross-sell, up-sell and targeted content are lost if the platform can’t analyze events in real-time, and include mechanisms for taking appropriate, immediate action.

Re-imagining the Retail Experience

A few retailers have taken the fact of device-equipped shoppers to heart in order to reimage the retail experience. In so doing, they are providing the efficiencies and data-collection aspects of online shopping with the high-touch of an in-store retail experience.

Take Hointer, which has pilot clothing stores in Palo Alto and Seattle. Hointer stores use a combination of smartphone apps and back-end automation to robotically deliver clothing to a shopper’s fitting room. “The cost-benefit savings are phenomenal, but to me they’re secondary,” says CEO Nadia Shouraboura.

While her stores collect perhaps ten times more data than a traditional retailer–“We know what you have in your hands and on your hips,” she says–the main focus is on improving customer experience. As she says, delighted customers will try more items and take more of them home in a shopping bag.

ellisfb_headshotEllis Booker is a familiar name in the computer trade press, where he held senior editorial posts at a number of A-list IT publications, including CMP’s [now UBM's] InternetWeek, Mecklermedia’s Web Week and IDG’s Computerworld. At Computerworld, he led the paper’s Internet and electronic commerce coverage in the early days of the Web and was responsible for creating its weekly Internet Page.

Most recently, Booker was editor-in-chief of Crain Communication Inc.’s BtoB, the only magazine devoted to covering the intersection of business strategy and business marketing. He ran BtoB, as well as its sister title Media Business,