SXSW 2016: Express, Nordstrom and REI discuss mobile’s undeniable effect on brick-and-mortar retailers


As you might imagine, mobile was inescapable at this year’s SXSW, and nowhere was that more clear than when watching attendees blindly dart from session to session barely looking up from their phones.

Mobile’s rapid and deep adoption across every aspect of our lives has shifted how brands think about it in a big way. What was once simply viewed as another channel is now a core business strategy and the focus of entire divisions within large organizations.

At a session titled “Revenge of the Bricks, Driven by Clicks,” we learned about the impact mobile has on brick-and-mortar retailers and how these retailers have built strategies to provide real value to their customers and ultimately grow their businesses. The discussion featured a panel of mobile and digital marketing experts, including ICF Olson client Eric Gohs, VP of Digital Marketing and Loyalty at Express. Joining Eric were panelists from REI and Nordstrom.

Each of the panelists said they’ve focused on these key areas over the last year:

Location Data Icon Location data enables highly personalized experiences.

Each of the brands leveraged location-based data to personalize the experience for the guest. Kerry Borland, the Mobile Product Manager at Nordstrom described how the company uses location data to present real-time location inve­ntory when a guest enters a 2-mile radius of a store.

App Icon Apps allow loyalists to deeply engage with a brand.

During the session, Eric Gohs discussed how mobile has played an increasingly important role in building a deeply loyal customer base. He explained that if a customer is willing to sacrifice space on their device for a retailer, they are most often a highly loyal customer, and thus, should have access to features and functionality that allow them to easily engage and transact with the brand. This could include everything from loyalty program information, mobile payment, rewards, etc.

Mobile Icon Mobile powers personal, 1to1 communications.

Through SMS and mobile push technologies, brands can engage customers in real time. REI has developed a message center within its mobile application that allows the brand to push notifications to users to inform them of a sale or events taking place nearby.

Each panelist included opportunities they see in the near future:

Eric Gohs, VP of Digital Marketing & Loyalty at Express: Eric passionately explained that data connectivity is the most important piece over the next few years. It’s not a very sexy concept, but it’s critical. Retailers who win will be able to use connected systems and data to enable the personalized experience around the customer.

Kerry Borland, Product Manager, Mobile at Nordstrom: As an upscale retail marketer, Kerry explained that in-app chat and chat platforms in general will become increasingly important for brands. In-app concierge services allow customers to engage with a real person that they can trust anywhere, anytime.

Jesse Morris, Mobile Program Manager at REI: Jesse believes that connected devices and wearables are the future. The trend is shooting through the roof like smartphones did not long ago, and for good reason. At a brand like REI, the ability to leverage wearables with GPS tracking to track hikes and share that information with others in the REI community is powerful.

At a time when mobile is almost too ubiquitous to be considered a channel, the panelists made one thing clear: The best retailers will take into account the mobile shopper at every possible junction.

-Spencer Smith

Senior Manager of Strategy, 1to1