Retail Mobile Strategies Podcast Series

To try and figure out where mobile is headed and, more importantly, where it should be headed, StorefrontBacktalk invited some of the top minds in retail IT to sit down and candidly discuss it. These seven podcasts and associated stories came from that discussion and focus on the top areas of concern, excitement and utter fear.

The Participants

Cara Kinzey
Senior VP of IT
Baron Concors
Michael Sajor
Sean Bunner
Operating VP

Digital Ownership

For retailers who sell digital content, be it e-books, movies, music, ringtones or videos, the ease and ubiquity of mobile—coupled with the soaring number of personal devices some consumers are now using—is creating a problem that has its roots in copyright law. Today, though, the issue of digital ownership is leading to an imminent trainwreck, when firms that are used to repeatedly getting money for the same digital content run into consumers who no longer want to pay repeatedly.

“That’s going to be a very tough change to make, because it’s credentialing flesh and blood instead of a bunch of electronics.” —Ann Taylor CIO Mike Sajor

In short, what happens when consumers want to be able to read an e-book on their desktop computers at home, on their laptops during the train ride to work, on their tablets while sitting in a client’s waiting room and on their smartphones while having a picnic in the park? Do retailers think these consumers will pay for the same e-book four times? Or that song? Mike Sajor, the CIO at apparel chain Ann Taylor, weighed in on this challenge.


Which mobile platforms are the ones you should focus on for your retail mobile strategy? That’s the wrong question—or at least it’s the least interesting way of thinking about mobile platforms. Much more useful is a broader view: The platform is whatever a customer is using on mobile, and that includes Facebook status, Foursquare check-ins and other mobile apps that are outside any one retailer’s control—all combined with how well the retailer’s mobile site works.

“The consumer’s perception is that on Amazon I can order something in one click. And if it takes more than that to order something from your Web site, then your Web site stinks.” —Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors

“The mobile experience for our client isn’t only our application, our content, our delivery vehicle. It’s what everyone else is doing,” said Michael Sajor, Chief Technology Officer at Ann Taylor. “When our client walks into a store and has a great experience trying on product, and she selects an outfit and is standing there in the store, picks up her Facebook app and puts a status message about the fantastic experience she just had, that’s as much a mobile experience for us as is an application that we field or some video that we might stream.” Sajor participated in a StorefrontBacktalk podcast series on retail mobile strategies, along with the CIO of Pizza Hut, the Snr. VP for IT at Home Depot and the Operating VP at HSN. This episode in the podcast series is focused on selecting the best mobile platforms.


Michael Sajor, CIO at the 907-store apparel chain Anne Taylor, is frustrated and baffled by how telecom carriers are avoiding getting directly involved in retail mobile payments. If they did, he said, especially if using Near-Field Communication (NFC), it would be “the most exciting thing out there.”

“The carriers know something about you. They authenticate you, and it’s reasonably difficult to falsify or spoof that authentication. If you’re holding that device, there’s a pretty darn good chance that you are who you say you are, as you’ve authenticated with the mobile network,” said Sajor, who was recently promoted to CIO from Chief Technology Officer.

“What you don’t want to do is hitch your wagon to some train that ends up being the Betamax to the VCR” —Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors

“Wouldn’t it be interesting, wouldn’t it be nice to use that authentication to authenticate you for your mobile experience all the way through the entire mobile payment channel? That would take away the logins and all of that kind of thing. You’d probably want to have some secondary protection: PINs or whatever. But if you could actually use that authentication in a sensible way to seamlessly permeate the entire experience, now you get a much more holistic experience based on what the carrier already knows. The data is already there. We just have to be able to get to it. I don’t think we’re quite at that point yet.” But Pizza Hut’s CIO urges caution until the U.S. cleans up mobile standards.


As retailers move to embrace mobile commerce, there are debates about what types of analytics should be used for mobile and even whether mobile analytics—or any single-channel effort—is necessarily a good thing. Most retail IT leaders, including Home Depot’s Senior VP/IT and one of her counterparts at HSN, say that many chains are so early in their mobile thinking today that such debates are premature. “I think mobile is so young that we’re not sure yet. Our analysis is developing in that area,” said Home Depot’s Cara Kinzey. “And I think that retailers are behind, [with many saying] ‘We’re more concerned about sales and we’ll get to that later.’ Honestly.”

“All of the print you may still do or E-mail, the touchpoints you have with your customers. Mobile allows you to have a call to action. I’m surprised I don’t see more of that. ‘Text in for something.’ It’s a marketer’s dream to know.” —HSN Operating VP Sean Bunner

Sean Bunner, HSN’s Operating VP, echoed Kinzey’s sentiment. “It’s such an early channel to get so granular. There’s some overall trend stuff we’re more interested in, like ‘what category of merchandise are they purchasing?’ From what we’ve seen, mobile is significantly different than Web or, for us, TV,” he said. “But even within mobile, between mobile Web and apps. You see pretty significant shifts in categories, so we then have to get into CRM activity to see ‘Why is that?’ Do you want to merchandise that store differently?”

Back Office

Although Mobile is a great enabler, it could also pose a great burden. And nowhere are those burdens more apparent than in retail back-office operations. Among the issues that Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors ran into with his chain’s mobile deployment was proper training of store personnel, something that is often overlooked.

“A big thing to think about is how you are going to train your in-store personnel and educate them on the mobile strategy and the mobile app. We found many customers walking into restaurants, asking our personnel how to use the iPhone app. That can get lost in the mix,” Concors said.

“How are you going to redirect those consumers to the right level of support when those things come about? There’s no way you are going to train all your personnel how to troubleshoot an iPhone app.” —Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors

“How are you going to redirect those consumers to the right level of support when those things come about? There’s no way you are going to train all your personnel how to troubleshoot an iPhone app. In 99.99 percent of cases, there’s no problem with the app itself. It’s because the person doesn’t understand or there’s a problem with their phone or there’s a problem with the network. If there’s a problem with the app, we will see it across the board.”


The future of mobile commerce includes instant Facebook data mining, real-time inventory and lots of seamless integration with every channel. At least that’s the view of most of the retail IT leaders who gathered recently for a panel to discuss where retail should go, mobile-wise, with one suggesting that many of the largest chains can’t even build regular mobile apps yet. “The ultimate vision for anyone in retail or hospitality today would be if someone lashes out on their Facebook page about an issue they had with your brand,” said Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors. “And you would quickly be able to see that person’s spend. Is this a person who comes once a week? Is this a person who this is the first time they’ve ever stepped foot in my restaurant? That’s the ultimate vision, but we’re not there yet.”

“I think the customer is going to dictate that retailers are going to have to provide [real-time inventory,] because as more and more people get smartphones, it’s expected.” —Cara Kinzey, Home Depot Senior VP for IT

The CIO at apparel chain Ann Taylor—Mike Sajor, who was recently promoted from serving as the chain’s CTO—argued that the very nature of mobile devices will force a lot of good things. But as much as it will help retailers, it will also force their hands.

Getting Inside

So much of mobile retail strategy today is based on the consumer being inside a store. That includes barcode scanning, check-in services, price comparisons and reading customer reviews. And yet getting a reliable signal inside many stores—assuming the consumer does not have Wi-Fi access to that store’s LAN—is almost impossible. The CIO at apparel chain Ann Taylor, Mike Sajor, argues that options exist, but few retailers are moving forward with them. Sajor laid out the reasons why in-store mobile is so terribly difficult for so many chains.

“If I’m down to 30 meter accuracy and I’m on 5th Avenue in New York, I’m hitting 35 retailers, maybe 40. So what good is that level of location?” —Ann Taylor CIO Mike Sajor

“If you think about mobility, interesting applications tend to leverage three things: presence; authentication; and location. Presence: Are you there? Are you on the network? Are you live? Can somebody see you? Location: Where are you physically? And to what level of granularity can you see that? Authentication: Are you who you say you are?” Sajor said. “Those are the three crown jewels. You can’t do much interesting unless you have those three things locked in to some degree or another.”


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Most Recent Comments

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