Commentary

Service With A Smile

My mobile bookmarks runneth over. A little adventure in mobile Web browsing for my last column quickly turned into an obsession this week, as I started popping into the address bar every brand name I came across. It wasn't always pretty.

Just for the record, Motorola, Apple, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, Tide and even Starbucks dot-coms failed to kick my browser over to a mobile-friendly site.

On the retail side, "Target.com" and "Sears.com" had credible and utilitarian landing pages. They answered the questions, "Why would a mobile user be coming here?" with neat menus that included the recent ads and specials, store locators and item searches. Target surprised me when I entered a general product search term in the box by asking whether I wanted to get results for all of Target stores or just the ones near me. It's that in-store search where I think retailers have a golden opportunity with consumers. If stores can get their customers to consider their cell phones a complement to the shopping experience from the front door, then they have a better opportunity to keep the mobilista focused on their store and brand experience. With the ton of code scanners out there like RedLaser and ShopSavvy, retail has to defend against mobile poaching by giving the user a compelling in-store mobile experience.

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By next November I should be able to walk into more than a few retail outlets where signage invites me to go to their mobile Web site and get more information about anything I see on the shelves. So far as I know we are not there yet, but the encouraging mobile executions from Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart this season point us in this direction -- I hope. Most of all, I think retailers have to avoid the trap of thinking that a mobile Web site is just an extension of the desktop. Something else is going on here. Not only does the utility have to be more contextually aware, but so does the spirit.

In this regard, Urban Outfitters continues to impress me as one of the savviest retail brands when it comes to mobile execution. For years the company has had had one of the cleverest SMS programs, one that actually uses SMS as a kind of publishing platform, sometimes announcing nearby concerts or offering you free music downloads. And Urban Outfitters isn't always pitching sales. The mobile Web site experience, while spare, is directed at exploring the goods. The search box prompts you to enter product categories, keywords or catalog numbers. It is a clean and quick approach. The company has definitely established a kind of mobile voice. It is not much of a voice yet, but the combined SMS and mobile Web site lay a foundation for greeting the mobile user in a certain spirit and tone. The mobile site includes the company blog, which is not about products so much as topics of interest to this audience. Urban Outfitters is using the mobile site to make a personal connection to the user.

Consider this. Just as some retailers like Apple or BestBuy try to construct a persona for their salespeople, why shouldn't they conceive of mobile as that kind of ever-ready sales associate, with a voice, an identity? If the user is coming to a mobile site in the inquisitive mode, and the site is constructed wisely to anticipate and answer the questions (where's a store, is there more info on this item in front of me?) then it is already in a conversation. Why not treat the exchange that way and give the mobile site more personality?

If the Web was personal, then mobile is intimate. There is a difference not only in the use case but in the relationship we have to the device itself. That has to be reflected in the shape, voice, architecture, and tone of a brand's mobile identity.

1 comment about "Service With A Smile ".
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  1. Mike Patterson from WIP, Inc., January 21, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.

    Steve, great article as usual. The issue however is that the WEB isn't even personal yet (but getting there), how can mobile be intimate if the web has skipped the personal part. I completely agree but web destinations have to be personal first and then mobile can be intimate. Kiss me first before you put your tongue down my throat!

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