In fact, apart from one or two columns here and there by start-up execs pitching their wares, I have seen little chatter in the industry about the role of mobile in the shopping experience on Black Friday.
It seems a no-brainer. Asking "can I get this cheaper online" or "what are the reviews like" have become retail reflexes for most of us. Arguably, this is the first year where mobile Web use (between 36 million and 43 million of us) has reached a critical enough mass to matter for most retailers. There will be millions of us in-store this Friday, armed with a mobile Internet device and cognizant of its power to run price comparisons, pull in relevant product content, and even serve as a competing, alternative retail channel.
I ran my own Black Friday mobile test run the other day, trying to stuff my bookmarks with retail outlets that offered usable mobile sites I might use in the field this week. It turns out that precious few online retailer sites redirect mobile devices to a friendlier format, even when one does exist for the brand. So shoppers at many major stores will instinctively go to the main dotcom URL and have to suffer the sluggish performance and challenging navigability of a full site on the phones. This is wrong, stupid and a glaring missed opportunity.
A handful of sites I have found do mobile e-tail well. 1800Flowers, for instance, has a mobile site that is woefully unattractive, given its visually striking product, but developer Usablenet seems to have had lowest common denominator phones in mind here. Nevertheless, the site absolutely hits its mobilized target, people who need to order flowers last minute. Ordering a dozen roses (for all of you thoughtless, apologetic cads) is the first menu choice, followed by checking order status and "Need it Today?" At the bottom of the main menu is a big honking direct click-to-call link for going live with a service rep. They know who they are talking to, and they know you probably forgot to send Mom her holiday bouquet. You really are a horrid and ungrateful child!
I love the total Google-like Zen simplicity of BestBuy's mobile portal. A search box and a drop-down store locater are all that greet you at the door. The yellow and blue logo are visible atop every page, but that is it. No pitches and deals, coupons or come-ons. They know you are here because you know them. Perhaps you are in Circuit City (for whom I can't even find a mobile site) and you need to run a price comparison or review check on that Nikon D90. Best Buy Mobile gives me an image, basic specs, a rating and a link to 13 reviews. It doesn't check in-stock status for specific stores yet, but the linkage to my nearest outlet is clean and simple enough to give me all the answers I need long before that clueless sales guy in the red shirt notices I am in the aisle. What I really like about the BestBuy strategy here is to satisfy consumer needs directly and cleanly, without cluttering the experience with cross-sell and promotion. The site has the opportunity to become a real resource for shoppers that ultimately pays off in brand equity. There is no need to sell me anything if they are being of service. This is pure pull.
Hands down, the best mobile comparison shopping engine I have seen thus far on multiple platforms is Slifter. This localized engine maintains excellent databases of big and small stores in your area. Plug in a product like that Nikon D90, and it will return literally hundreds of results that you can filter down by brand or by retailer. Links click through to maps and call buttons. I would love to see it fleshed out with review information and in-stock data, but it serves a core interest of harried shoppers scoping out their options.
1800Flowers, BestBuy and Slifter are all good examples of brands being of service in the mobile realm, not just "extending their brand." In each case, they sacrifice messaging and promotion to sheer utility. By doing this, they become shopping resources that are larger than their actual retail businesses. I envision a day when I can walk into a JC Penney, Sears, Victoria's Secret or Borders and some prompt somewhere will suggest I go to the store's mobile concierge on my phone. There I will find stock status, the location of items in the store, user reviews, and more. It will give me more and better information, quicker and without the attitude of the kids in the colored shirts trying to avoid me in the store aisles.