Please Hold, My Cellphone is Buying a Gift

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Stores like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are using more text-message alerts to spread the news about sales. Online retailers like Inc. are sending out daily messages on Twitter, a blogging site that uses short messages, to advertise the latest holiday specials. The Gap Inc., Target Corp., Sears Holdings Corp. and Inc. are pushing new mobile programs this year, too.

Retailers hope these efforts make it easier for customers to shop online, with their cellphones or even at brick-and-mortar stores. And while the prices touted digitally are basically the same as those offered in the store, retailers say customers can get news of sales earlier than with other methods, such as commercials or circulars.

This digital outreach comes as retailers worry about weak sales during what typically is their busiest time of year. Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5, shoppers spent $14.92 billion online, essentially the same as last year, according to a report released Sunday by research firm comScore Inc. Still, on Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, holiday shoppers spent $846 million, a 15% increase from last year, comScore’s report said.

Connecting with busy shoppers through their mobile phones “is even more important right now” for retailers, given the tough economic climate, says Brad Beasley, president of CrossLink Media, a mobile-marketing firm.

Most cellphones support the promotional text messages. But many advanced shopping and commerce features are built for specific smart phones, such as the Apple iPhone. Most programs, like text-message alerts, require consumers to sign up either through their phones or via the Web.

Wal-Mart is sending out more-frequent text-message alerts to its shoppers who signed up for the service, says Melissa O’Brien a spokeswoman for the company. Last year, Wal-Mart sent out three alerts to shoppers’ cellphones the entire holiday season. This year, the company is sending out weekly alerts that customers can tailor by category. Last week, Wal-Mart sent customers text messages detailing holiday specials on toys and home electronics. Shoppers can click on links within the text messages that will take them to Wal-Mart’s mobile Web site to find additional details and reviews of that item. is sending out daily deals on Twitter, a Web site on which users send and share short messages via the Web, text-messages and email, says Neel Grover,’s chief executive and president. The company is sending out about 25 messages a day about new specials it is offering, Mr. Grover says.

Last month, Sears launched a new mobile Web site called Sears2Go, where customers can make credit-card purchases directly from their phones. Tom Aiello, a Sears spokesman, says one way shoppers are using the site is to make purchases while in the store after finding out that an item is sold out., Target and the Gap each recently released free iPhone applications for holiday shoppers. Amazon’s application, launched last week, is one of the most robust shopping applications for the iPhone. Users can browse for items and compare prices of new and used items sold by Amazon and its retail partners. Shoppers can make purchases directly from the application. released a mobile Web site optimized for the iPhone soon after the phone was released. After noticing the traffic and sales that the site got from users, the company decided to develop a specific application with richer features, says Sam Hall, director of wireless products and services for Amazon. For example, the new application lets users snap a photo of item using the phone’s camera, and Amazon employees try to find similar items for sale on the Web site.

Jeffrey Donenfeld, a 26-year-old manager for an interactive marketing firm in New York, recently downloaded the Amazon application. Mr. Donenfeld says he likes being able to use it while in stores to compare prices against items on Amazon. But he will use the application only to buy products he has already researched, he says.

The Gap’s iPhone application lets users mix and match clothing items to create an outfit. The components are then compiled on a gift list. Shoppers then use the application to find the closest Gap store in their area.

Target’s iPhone application focuses on giving shoppers gift recommendations based on the gender and age of the recipient. After inputting this info, shoppers give the phone a shake, and a recommended gift item appears on the phone. The application gives shoppers links to Target’s Web site, where they can buy the item or look for the nearest store. For the first time this year, Target is sending out text-message alerts about their holiday sales to its registered customers, too.

by Joseph De Avila

Source: The Wall Street Journal


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