Target Corp. says it has scored a first among retailers: Shoppers can now access their gift-card accounts using smartphones, and have the barcode scanned right at checkout. "Guests no longer need to carry their Target GiftCards in order to redeem them," it says in its release. "All that's needed is a mobile phone with Internet capabilities." The Minneapolis-based chain claims it is the first major retailer with the ability to scan mobile barcodes in all of its stores.
While such announcements may seem arcane to mass marketers -- could there be that many smartphone users who also hate to carry their gift cards with them? -- m-commerce experts say it's more evidence of the growing clout of the phone shopper. "There's been such rapid growth in m-commerce in the last two years," Ben Rushlo, senior manager of Internet technologies at Keynote, based in San Mateo, Calif., tells Marketing Daily.
"So Target getting in front of consumers and saying, 'We're thinking about you smartphone users' is a good move, and one more way for it to position itself as trendy. We're about to see a new wave of adoption for this technology, reaching out to non-technologically savvy shoppers. At this point, even my parents are talking about getting an iPhone."
Still, there are major frustrations. Keynote, a mobile and Internet test and measurement company, recently ranked the performance of 10 big retailers' m-commerce sites over the holiday period, and found that most of them have a long way to go. "The best error rate we found was 2%," he says. "On an e-commerce site, that would be 0.5%. And in some cases, the error rate was much higher."
In addition, he says, some of the sites could take up to 30 seconds to load -- too long for anyone to put up with. Overall, Best Buy's m-commerce site performed the best, he says, followed by Foot Locker. "Target came in No. 4," he says, "much more middle-of-the road."
Target's m-commerce site already allows shoppers to view online assortments, check product availability, manage lists, browse weekly circulars and get text updates.
Compete's Smartphone Intelligence survey, released last month, says the introduction of new devices, like the Android, will fuel increases in sales. At this point, just 37% of smartphone owners have purchased something non-mobile with their handset in the past six months. Mostly, the survey found, they are using their smartphones to research purchases, checking sale prices at alternative or browsing consumer reviews.
Poorly performing sites, Rushlo says, may slow that growth. "Consumers on the Web are used to much faster times, and expect pages to load in a few seconds. Even the best mobile Web sites take two to three times that long."