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Retailers must embrace mobile social tools

Recent innovations in technology have changed the way consumers interact with their world.

Instant access to entertainment, news and information provides consumers with a new level of control that they previously lacked. It is this interaction with technology that has led to an evolution in the ways that retailers are engaging with their customers.

Retailers, especially luxury and apparel brands, are currently developing new and unique applications for these new technologies that will move customer relationship management to a whole new level.

Established brands such as Louis Vuitton, American Eagle, Burberry and Express are among a few retailers that have already begun using mobile and social media platforms to engage with its customers.
It is clear that the benefits of the technology lead to increased sales, stronger customer relationship and overall success in the market.

Advances in technology
Over the last few years, consumers have increasingly embraced next-generation devices such as smartphones and tablets.

There are 53.4 million smartphone owners nationwide, according to a September 2010 report from comScore, and that number is growing.

Consumers are using these platforms now more than ever, and it is the retailer?s job to engage its customers through these popular mediums.

If retailers do not begin to enter these spaces, they will lose out on a vital opportunity to not only increase in-store sales, but create lifelong brand evangelists.

Developments in mobile technology have also advanced standard of point-of-sale (POS) and inventory systems. Through this new mobility, retailers can create an intimate, one-on-one shopping experience that is familiar to their tech-savvy customers.

Opportunity for retailers
Advances in mobility and social media tools are also allowing new levels of personalization and recommendations that were previously only possible through a retailer?s main Web page.

Traditional clicks-and-mortar stores only present opportunities for one-way conversations, whereas mobile and social begin to foster two-way discussions.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers can now provide its clientele with immediate sales suggestions based on previous purchases or product interest.

Ultimately, these new features will help associates upsell during individual transactions or turn a one-time purchase into a frequent shopper.

These new developments are also providing retailers with new opportunities to create innovative shopping experiences, promotions or marketing campaigns.

An excellent example is the recent Burberry campaign tied to Fashion Week.

Burberry aired a Webcast of its new line, which was premiered for an exclusive set of customers who were then given a chance to pre-order directly from an iPad in 25 stores around the globe.

Burberry used new technology to reduce the lag between when a new clothing line is premiered and when it is available for purchase, while providing a unique and exclusive shopping experience for its most loyal customers.

Facebook is an excellent example of another platform to which consumers flock.

The social network currently reports a base of 500 million active subscribers, as of September. This medium not only provides retailers with a direct channel to their customers, but creates an opportunity for a two-way conversation that offers additional insight into the wants and needs of its most valuable consumers.

In turn, consumers begin to familiarize themselves with the brand, not only becoming experts in the products or services offered, but also maintaining and sharing positive feelings about the retailer.

Say hello to social
While there are a host of new opportunities that these technologies provide, mobile and social media tools do present their own unique challenges.

Retailers need to be prepared to adapt to new rules of engagement and frameworks to develop and execute a successful strategy.

These tools also require new internal processes for retailers, as brands need to react quickly to meet the evolving needs of their consumers.  Examples of companies doing this well include Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks and Carl?s Jr.

Social media and next-generation smart devices have offered retailers a unique medium to develop new relationships with consumers while increasing sales numbers and staff knowledge of the brand.

Moving forward, retailers will begin shaping their new products around the insights gained through these tools along with an increased customer loyalty towards brands, rather than individual products.

In the meantime, retailers need to be educated about the changing technological landscape and the opportunity it has to offer them.

Patrick Bouaziz is chief visionary officer of ILoveVelvet, New York. Reach him at .