Merging Bytes & Bricks

How mobile and digital are working to bring consumers into stores.

New York–Digital and brick-and-mortar shopping needn’t be an either/or proposition. In fact, location-based apps and retail portals are increasingly working to send consumers into physical stores in a more targeted way.

According to a recent research study by Deloitte, smartphones currently influence 5.1% of annual retail store sales, translating into $159 billion for the year. Deloitte anticipates mobile’s influence to grow to 19% of total store sales by 2015, amounting to $689 billion in mobile-influenced sales.

Location-based apps—which target a user’s location via GPS then entice her into nearby stores with unique merchandise or time-sensitive discounts—usually rely on the physical store experience to make the sale. They also offer boutiques a way to use sophisticated technology without their own app or web presence.

“Mobile devices’ influence on retail store sales has passed the rate at which consumers purchase through their devices today,” says Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader. “Consumers’ store-related mobile activities are contributing to—not taking away from—in-store sales. Our research shows that smartphone shoppers are 14% more likely to convert and make a pur-chase in the store than non-smartphone users.”

On the flip side, even larger stores are using affiliated Internet sites and mobile apps not just for e-commerce purposes, but to enhance their consumers’ in-store shopping experiences. Barcode scanners on tags that link to web reviews is just one such example.

Snapette

This location-based app, started by two fashion-savvy Harvard alums, began as a “social recommendation site,” or rather, a way for users to boast about their fashion finds to other fashionistas, all while listing store and price information. By viewing image tags, users could see what was New, Near and Hot, then head into those stores to buy. While Snapette does feature apparel, more than 70% of content is shoes, handbags and jewelry.

The site has since matured, allowing retailers to control their message (instead of just relying on consumer posts), and to offer exclusive, time-sensitive discounts. “The new 2.0 version’s functionality has the ability for push notifications based on location, so a store can send out a push, have it run for a week, and anyone in a 10-block radius can receive it,” says co-founder Sarah Paii. “Currently we have 180 store partners, most in New York, and 40% of site content now comes from the stores themselves.”

While Snapette is location based, it can also be used for general fashion information. Style-savvy consumers still want to see what their peers are posting in Tokyo or Paris, either out of curiosity, trend advice, or to plan a future fashion trip. Users can also share photos and comments with friends, follow their favorite fellow “Snapettes” and share images via social media like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Retail partners, including Diane von Furstenberg, Rebecca Minkoff, Rebecca Taylor, Tracey Reese, Joie, Steven Alan and Vince Camuto, use the app as an innovative new way to reach consumers.

Snapette recently snapped up actress and young Hollywood style icon Emma Roberts as its fashion advisor. In this role, Roberts will post current favorites to the app, whether finds from boutiques or her own closet. “It’s exciting for me to be part of a new product that is completely changing how people shop,” said Roberts. “Snapette hits the mark by combining mobile and local fashion shopping. Online shopping is great but I love going out and shopping in person!”

Shoptiques.com

At its core, recent startup Shoptiques.com takes small, local brick-and-mortar stores—and their unique style, fashion and experience—and aggregates them online for a wider audience. Consumers can search by city, store or even accessory type, then use that information to plan a physical shopping trip.

Conceptualized by Olga Vidisheva as her business plan project at Harvard Business School, Shoptiques is rapidly signing on stores who value the benefit of fusing online/mobile with the store experience.

To tie the store experience back to the web, boutiques have a sticker outside that says ‘Find us online on Shoptiques.com’ as well as take-home cards. “We are perfect compliments, especially for boutiques that don’t have their own websites,” says Vidisheva. “You might not live in the neighborhood or city or even country that the store is in, but you can always find that store on Shoptiques.com later.”

While Shoptiques doesn’t have a mobile app, it’s in the works. “It’s definitely something we’re focused on,” says Vidisheva. “However, when we launch, it will integrate not only the online experience, but the offline boutique shopping experience as well.”

Shoptiques.com also has a “pick up in store” option—perfect for the woman who enjoys physical shopping but doesn’t want to miss out on an item she saw online. This way, she can shop online on Wednesday but pick up the item in-store on Saturday when her timetable permits. Bringing her into the store then allows the boutique to romance the sale.

Scratch Hard

Launched in time for 2012 Black Friday Shopping on Apple’s iOS (and soon for Android), Scratch Hard puts a fun twist into location-based mobile shopping apps. The interactive site utilizes a swipe, “scratch-off” touch-screen technology that lets consumers uncover nearby retail offers. The more a user ‘scratches’ to uncover an offer, the more offers he or she receives.

Users can slide the bar at the bottom of the map or list page to view a larger geographical radius. “You will always see stores in your area, though not all may be offering exclusive or everyday promotions at that time,” says CEO Tony Sayegh. “You can also plan a shopping trip in another city via our location search, all within the app. We focus on consumers’ immediate need for purchase, without all of the added requirements such as checking in, scanning bar codes, or earning points. Scratch Hard also avoids providing or pushing deals that consumers don’t want.”

 

ShopNear.Me

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, ShopNear.Me, a newcomer to the tech space with a website and app, also aggregates local stores for consumers, letting women shop items across various boutiques on the same platform.

“We have over 50 stores now on the West Coast and many jewelry designers we feature have a wide distribution nationwide, even internationally,” says founder Yuan Zhang. “We are mainly in San Francisco right now, but we are in talk with boutiques on the East Coast to get ready to launch in more cities early next year. We get emails from consumers from all over the country wanting ShopNear.me to be in their cities.”

Participating boutiques can upload images to the site/app as merchandise becomes available (and delete it when it’s sold) so consumers always see what’s available in the stores in real time. The site also sends users real-time updates whenever participating stores have news updates (new in-store products to sales and promotions), which consumers can receive by email, phone, web or social networks.

The app also gets “smarter” the more a consumer shops, making shopping recommendations from time to time once it gets to know a user’s shopping style. It’s reservation feature allows consumers to place an item on hold for 24 to 48 hours, and then receive a 10% off once you purchase it.

Forever 21

In time for 2012 holiday shopping, Forever 21 relaunched its mobile app along with an augmented reality app called F21POP.

“We want to blur the boundaries between fashion and technology,” says Linda Chang, Global Marketing Director for Forever 21. “Our customers are digitally savvy and we strive to bring fast technology to fast fashion. Our new mobile apps allow us to engage our customers on a new level while making their shopping experience easier and more exciting.”

One of the Forever 21 app’s new features lets consumers scan an item in the store (on the barcode) then read more about it on the mobile site. Customers can also check out different sizes and colors, read reviews, add it to their wish list or share it with their friends via social media.

To see how items look as outfits, consumers can browse Forever 21 app’s “shoppable look book,” with photo shoots styled by Forever 21 stylists. Consumers can then skip the long lines at the store, buy the items off their devices and have them shipped to their homes. The brand’s new mobile app also includes in store and online discounts and style deals.

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Lauren Parker, Editor, Accessories Magazine

As Editor of Accessories Magazine for the past 12 years, Lauren Parker has covered accessories both from a retail business perspective and a fashion point of view. In previous full-time magazine jobs and freelance gigs, she’s written about practically every angle of fashion lifestyle living, including women's fashion accessories, fine jewelry, Caribbean travel, private jets, Hampton’s real estate, the New York art scene, the bridal industry, men’s lifestyle and being a mom. She loves meeting designers and seeing how their latest offerings capture the current zeitgeist and fit into the entire cultural and social picture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patty.villanova.7 Patty Villanova

    No matter what, it’s very difficult out there for small brick and mortar shops. I have a cute boutique up the line from NYC in Cold Spring and we are all struggling. I’m so glad to see these companies that are trying to bridge the gap between online and real time shopping. For many of us, nothing can duplicate the retail experience of going into a real store.

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