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Office Depot exec cites mobile messaging for differentiated online experience

PHILADELPHIA ? An Office Depot executive at eTail East said that in-application messaging and sharing features are two ways that the big box retailer differentiates its mobile strategy, especially for the business-to-business market.

The ?Personalizing and Differentiating Your Customer Experience to Actively Compete in Today?s Market? session gave attendees a look at how both bricks-and-mortar and online retailers can stand out today as consumers continue to rely on their mobile devices as a guide in the shopping purchases. For mobile specifically, the company sees some unique opportunities with its business-to-business shoppers that are different from consumers.

?One of the biggest things we see is that they are used to buying in a workflow kind of way where if I?m ordering a laptop, I need my CEO to approve it,? said Manish Hirapara, senior director of ecommerce at Office Depot, Delray Beach, FL.

?Mobile is a great way to do that [with features such as] push notifications,? he said.

??Hey, let me just text my CEO right here with the link to the approval,? and use the mobile app for things like that will lead them to a much better cross-channel and ultimately much more relevant, differentiated experience if they know that they have the capability versus, ?Well I need to email them and hound my boss.??

Cross-channel opportunity
Office Depot has a heavy emphasis in the business-to-business market compared to the consumer side with sales.

Initially when the company created its mobile apps, the experience was similar to Office Depot?s Web site, which is not how consumers expect to interact with brands via mobile.

Since the experience was not up to par, neither were conversions.

Both push notifications and in-app messaging options can be effective for marketers looking to differentiate their app efforts.

Consumers nowadays are bombarded by media on different types of devices.

Therefore, the key for retailers is to tailor mobile experiences to use cases, especially when changing from an in-store to bricks-and-mortar experiences.

Bricks-and-mortar stores are not a liability for retailers anymore, and mobile is playing a big role in how marketers are reinvigorating their physical assets.

?They may be placing the order on their iPhone or on their Android device and then walking into the store to pick it up,? Mr. Hirapara said.
Striking the right message
For retailers there is a notion that offering more products means that they will sell more products.

However that perception is not always true, per Mr. Hirapara.

The key drivers on differentiating an online and bricks-and-mortar strategy centers around understanding the consumer, making it relevant, making it personal, seeking the right partners and leveraging existing assets.

Gaining the perspective of the customer means creating an online experience that is utility-driven and well-designed, according to the Office Depot executive.

To create a customized product inventory, Office Depot wants to do a better job with using data.

?When we think about our product strategy, it?s historically been based on the customer insights we have, based on the market research we have to bring together categories of products,? Mr. Hirapara said.

Final Take
Manish Hirapara is senior director of ecommerce at Office Depot, Delray Beach, FL