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Mobile?s role in back-to-school grows as campaigns move beyond price promotions

Mobile is playing a bigger role than ever before in back-to-school shopping for both consumers and marketers, whose strategies are beginning to move beyond simple promotions.

Macy?s and Office Depot are two of the marketers leveraging mobile to tie into social issues or provide valuable shopping assistance as they look to drive more than ten percent of sales from mobile. At the same time, the influence of smartphones on back-to-school sales is up significantly this year, with 78 percent of smartphone owners using their devices for back-to-school shopping, up from 65 percent last year, according to a new survey from Deloitte.

?As the distinction between online shopping and mobile shopping becomes nearly transparent, mobile is playing a big role in driving 2013 back-to-school revenue for retailers,? said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

?Students are disproportionately armed with smartphones and no longer just need pencils and paper to prepare for the school year,? he said. ?A recent Google study identified search terms like ?messenger bags? and ?bean bag chairs? and ?pink bedding? as ranking highly this year.

?A retailer without an API-integrated mobile site for this back-to-school season will find itself in detention.?

Competitive pricing
Helping to drive mobile?s bigger role in back-to-school shopping is the fact that there are more smartphones in the market and that many users are already engaging with their devices for shopping related activities.

As a result, retailers could see more than ten percent of their back-to-school sales come from mobile.

?One in three retailers project mobile will be more than ten percent of their holiday revenues,? said Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, Chicago. ?I would expect that back-to-school will find similar findings particularly with student involvement and the typical categories purchased which leans heavy on technology and school supplies.?

Not only are mobile commerce sales on the rise, but mobile is also influencing a larger percentage of sales as consumers engage with their devices to research products and for other shopping related activities.

The Deloitte survey found that competitive pricing continues to be the top mobile incentive, with 66 percent of shoppers planning to use their smartphones to obtain price information and 60 percent to obtain discounts, coupons or sale information ? up 15 percentage points from last year.

Extra step
With consumers using their smartphones to check prices, product details or reviews, it is important that merchants look for ways to become a part of the experience or risk disappearing into the clutter of back-to-school advertising.

Savvy merchants recognize this and are taking the extra step to tie their efforts to popular school activities or social issues.

For example, Office Depot is using mobile to help promote an exclusive, limited-edition line of back-to-school supplies developed in partnership with pop band One Direction. The goal is to fund anti-bullying education programs.

The program includes an augmented reality component on the Office Depot iPhone app that adds another layer of interactivity to the product collection while providing users with behind-the-scenes content about the band. When users line up the school supplies within a frame on their smartphone, a video plays showing the band and highlighting the anti-bullying campaign (see story).

Shopping companion
This year, merchants are also leveraging mobile to serve as a shopping companion or stylist to help students and parents make back-to-school purchasing decisions.

For example, Macy?s is using a SMS contest for a $500 gift card to help promote a mobile-optimized college-themed microsite where users can shop different categories and view the top items of the day, which can be added to a shopping cart or a shopping list.

The site also features custom content such as a quiz and a countdown clock.

?Innovations in mobile technologies are moving at a pace that is leaving a trail of disruption, and retailers are being pulled into the future by consumers who are embracing smartphones for shopping,? said Alison Paul, vice chairman and sector leader for retail and distribution at Deloitte LLP, New York.

?This year, we are seeing more retailers offer mobile POS options for faster check-outs, use QR codes to offer shoppers additional product information and provide store associates mobile devices and tablets to quickly access customer and store performance data,? she said.

?Furthermore, there is a continued focus on integrating mobile with other selling channels to provide the consumer a seamless, omnichannel shopping experience."

Early bird
The growing use of mobile is also moving the back-to-school season earlier, with searches for related sales trending two weeks earlier this year compared with 2012, according to recent data from Google.

As mobile use grows, more consumers are able to research products from anywhere via their devices, which is why back-to-school searches are taking place earlier.

?Mobile offers retailers the ability to incrementally drive traditional in-store sales, strengthening the relationship between retailer and consumer to increase engagement and loyalty,? Deloitte?s Ms. Paul said.

?In many ways, mobile is also the connection point bridging the physical and virtual retail shopping experiences for consumers,? she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York