Sears’ Mobile: Focusing On The Consumer Who Doesn’t Have A Smartphone

Written by Evan Schuman
October 19th, 2011

Sears’ in-store mobile move is more about feature migration (from POS and consumer’s phones to phones controlled by associates) than new functionality. But for an October 2011 rollout—given some of Sears’ thinking—that might be just perfect.

When Sears on October 13 added its name to the lengthy roster of chains rolling out in-store associate-controlled Apple devices, it opted to not offer checkout. But it is mirroring the services for customers that associates have, for years, been able to do from POS stations and that customers (for a lesser time) have been able to do from their own smartphones.

Sears’ conservative move makes more sense in the context that many customers may not feel like using their phones while shopping and, more to the point, most American consumers don’t yet have smartphones—if you accept the smartphone definition of a phone that can download third-party apps. It’s true that most consumers don’t yet have such smartphones, but just barely. Last month, Nielsen put U.S. smartphone ownership at 40 percent, so it’s unlikely to be true by the end of next year, given the millions of sales of new iPhones and Androids that have been reported this week.

Mobile commerce itself is certainly a phrase searching for a clean definition. But we’re partial to the idea that just about any commerce facilitated by such a device is an important part of M-Commerce, whether the purchase is being made (mobile payment) or researched (consumer-controlled searching, either in-store or elsewhere) or if the customer is being incentivized to interact with the store more (check-in services). It also shouldn’t matter—for this definition—whether the phone is owner-controlled by the customer or the store associate.

Sears spokesperson Kimberly Freely said her chain, from a conceptual perspective, is viewing it more narrowly.

“It isn’t about mobile shopping, per se. This is about store experience,” she said. “This is about making the experience more interactive for customers through the use of iPads and iPod Touches, offering them the chance to check inventory, view product videos and check product reviews to see products that we might not have in the store and compare items.”

The problem is that Sears customers have had—for quite some time—the ability to do all of those things. The difference here is really the form factor and the convenience, and that’s an essential distinction. What’s new is not the functions but the form factor itself, and the location-flexibility of that form factor.

There’s also a key sales point behind the scenes here.


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