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ETail West confirms increased retailer interest in mobile

More than 150 retail executives spent an extra day at the eTail West conference last week in Palm Desert, CA, to soak up the wisdom on mobile. Expect to see that attention soon bear fruit.

In less than a week, three conferences will have focused on mobile marketing and commerce, targeting interactive and direct marketers as well as retailers.

This publication?s sibling, Mobile Commerce Daily, will host a Mobile Boot Camp tomorrow at the JW Marriott in San Francisco in conjunction with the National Retail Federation. On March 4, this publication will hold its second Mobile Marketing Day in New York with the Direct Marketing Association.

Why the growing emphasis on mobile through targeted, day-long events? Because retailers are now open to the virtues of mobile marketing and commerce. Once again, consumers have led by indicating their new preferences for shopping, searching, emailing, photo-clicking, communicating and networking, game-playing and interacting with ads through mobile devices ? on the couch or on the run.

Mobile computer, mobile consumer
It is becoming increasingly clear that mobile marketing and commerce are no longer simply aimed at consumers on the go. It is marketing or commerce targeted to consumers who prefer to interact with smaller, more interactive devices at home, office or in between.

This evolving behavior requires a change in thinking and strategy. Is the mobile device ? today the mobile phone, tomorrow also a wireless tablet ? replacing the laptop for many of the functions commonly conducted on a 15-inch screen?

Perhaps it is, even as it currently complements laptop and desktop computing experiences.

What was sensed at eTail West was the concern that retailers have over how their customers will continue shopping through smaller devices and what effect these smaller screens will have on merchandising, marketing, search and transactions. Will the mobile site or mobile application cannibalize the wired Web site? Will it live up to its promise to drive traffic to stores? Will location-based advertising play a role in mobile commerce?

These questions and many others were asked and answered by experts at the event at a most calming location, the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, a few miles down the road from the heavenly Palm Springs.

Five factors for site, app design
On a panel with senior executives from REI, Wet Seal, Yesmail, Netbiscuits and moderator Marci Troutman of Siteminis, this writer suggested that retailers focus on five factors when designing a mobile site or application: a great search function, such as the one seen on Amazon?s mobile destinations; easy navigation that is drop-down, simple and intuitive; imagery that allows consumers to zoom in and out ? a picture speaks a thousand words; a store location function that drives local traffic; and low-friction transacting capability ? get the customer registered with contact and credit card details on the wired Web and then use the same email and password on mobile.

Of course, as Shutterfly?s John Poisson pointed out in his session, one challenge of mobile is quite obvious: consumers typically don?t have their contacts? mailing addresses on the phone, so that does prevent effective gift-giving. Some retailers can work their way around that by offering to contact the gift recipient if the gift-giver volunteers the email address.

In short, such issues were raised at eTail West and will continue to be brought up in forthcoming conferences. It?s good that retailers are finally sitting up and asking the right questions.

In a couple of years, the dialogue will shift to optimizing mobile sites and applications and rendering cross-channel benefits to offer a seamless brand and shopping experience to consumers.

When retail gets behind mobile, customers will get behind their favorite retail brands. Now is the time to build that mobile commerce site or application and lease a common short code for SMS marketing. Mobile is ripe for the picking.