Retailers are quickly realizing the importance of creating a robust and personal mobile shopping experience for their customers. When implementing a strategic mobile strategy, the first question retailers consider is this: mobile-optimized website, rich downloadable app or both?

While the deployment of a mobile-optimized website designed to reach the broadest audience is necessary in any successful mobile strategy, the most strategic move is to include a rich app for the iPhone/iPod Touch, Android or BlackBerry. It’s the app that allows the retailer to create a meaningful, personal relationship with their most loyal customers, which drives more frequent interaction and higher average transaction values.

Retailers should start with a mobile-optimized website

By offering a unique and elegant mobile shopping experience across all smartphone device platforms, the retailer can create a positive shopping experience for the widest range of customers. The retailer’s mobile site should not be a cut-and-paste of the ecommerce site. Retailers who create a unique experience for mobile, designed specifically for mobile use, can substantially improve sales and customer acquisition.

Brooks Brothers recently launched a website designed to deliver a rich mobile shopping experience when customers visit on their smartphones. The site enables customers to search, browse and buy Brooks Brothers products from anywhere at any time through the use of key features like large, rich product photographs, complete product descriptions, shop by category for men, women, boys and girls, a store locator, email signup, order tracking, complete site search, ratings and reviews, promotional offers, share to Facebook, and email a friend.

Rich apps are the future loyalty card

Rich apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch, BlackBerry and Android are a critical component to a mobile platform as these apps empower retailers to build a closer, more personal relationship with their loyal customers and drive incremental revenue. Retailers should review which mobile device types are already visiting their site to determine which app(s) is most appropriate for their customer base.

Many top retail brands have already adopted branded mobile rich apps, including Toys “R” US, Golfsmith, 1800Flowers, and UGG. Toys “R” Us has implemented a groundbreaking consumer experience through an iPhone/iPod Touch app to bring to life all the requirements that drive awareness, engagement and sales. In addition to the key elements featured on the mobile optimized website, the rich app successfully aggregates many new advancements only available by using the native capabilities of the device, including push notifications, QR code and barcode product scanning, and GPS store locator.

Through these mobile engagements, customers will build a greater affinity to the retailer as they drive more time-sensitive and location-sensitive value, thus building greater loyalty to the retailer’s brand.

Rich apps enhance the in-store mobile experience

Through the deployment of a rich app, retailers engage with customers in the retail store itself. Features specific to apps are already transforming the app into the retailers’ new store loyalty card. Through their own branded rich app, retailers can enhance the in-store experience, drive sales and measure the efficacy of their in-store operation with store locators, store check-ins, use of scanner in-store and store exits.

Whole Foods Market, who has one of the best in-store experiences for consumers, has already started thinking about innovative ways to engage with mobile consumers while in the store through the use of their own branded rich app.

“To date, most consumers’ experiences with mobile relate to e-commerce transactions,” according to Mike Clifford, Chief Information Officer for Whole Foods Market. “However, delighting customers while they are in our stores is critical to Whole Foods Market’s success, and smartphone applications are enabling entirely new opportunities to take this to higher levels.”

It is through the mobile web that consumers will initially interact with a retailer from a mobile device. Mobile web allows customers to benefit from a fast, easy-to-use interface for browsing, searching and buying while on the go. The retailer can then engage and transform the customer from occasional visitor to loyal customer by having them download the app for faster, more frequent and higher value experiences whether they’re in the store or on the move. In doing so, the retailer can drive incremental sales, increase customer loyalty and learn more about consumers’
buying behavior to serve them better in the future.

Dan Lowden is the vice president of marketing at the mobile commerce company Digby.