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Dreaming of a Mobile Christmas

Retailers take a more active role to lure consumers

Screenshot, Macy's Backstage Pass.

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During last year’s holiday season, many retailers started exploring the new options smartphones offer them for enticing consumers to open their wallets. Now they’ll start really going for it.

The hottest thing on the smartphone front for retailers may be about location-based marketing. In 2010, stores started using geosocial programs like Foursquare and Facebook to reward customers for “checking-in” to their stores. This year, they’ll take a more active strategy, trying to lure in shoppers who are within a couple of miles of their stores—or their competitors—with messages about store proximity, directions, deals, and product availability.

“Thanks to the ‘Groupon effect,’ shoppers now expect more ‘deal of the day’ offers,” said Mark Niehaus, a director at digital consultancy Acquity Group. “It’s a great retail strategy to get people in stores more frequently and earlier in the season.”

Macy’s is taking another tack, focusing on QR codes. The codes—bar codes, basically, that when scanned by smartphones take users to Web pages, apps, or other content—haven’t truly caught on in the U.S. But Macy’s is trying something new, using them in stores to get customers to its Backstage Pass, which shows users 30-second videos with advice from designers like Martha Stewart and Tommy Hilfiger.

The effort has been educational as well as promotional. This year, Macy’s ran a 15-second spot on using QR codes. “Mobile becomes the last mile connecting those designers with shoppers,” explained Matt MacDonald, an executive creative director at Macy’s agency JWT. “Shopping becomes more intimate and personal.”