M-Commerce Inside Is <i>Very</i> Different Than M-Commerce Outside

Retailers tend to think of mobile as a single strategy, a way to deal with their customers via their mobile devices, regardless of where they are. But the truth is that retailers need to have two distinct mobile strategies: One for dealing with customers when they are inside physical stores and a second for when they are anywhere else.

In-Store Mobile (let's call it ISM because retail sorely needs more TLAs) has far more capabilities and possibilities than Outside Mobile (OM). ISM offers the opportunity to interact with shelf tags and barcodes, which OM does not.

If you want to facilitate mobile interactions in-store—with perhaps a POS, a card swipe reader, a kiosk or even a smartcart—you have the possibility of Bluetooth. Or maybe even giving customers secured access to a customer-only LAN.

Then there's signal access. Quite a few stores have structures that make them very mobile-signal hostile. (Not going to mention any names, but, yes, we're looking at you, Macy's flagship store in Manhattan.) How about a dose of Wi-Fi for customers to give them excellent high-speed data capabilities? Not a bad differentiator.

What about geolocation? Even if a cell signal makes its way into the store, satellite signals almost certainly won't.

But that's OK because, even if it did, it would do little more than indicate that the customer is in the building and give a very rough idea of location. To get more specific involves beacons and other items that will have to operate on your LAN. If you're OK with that for your chain, it opens up a huge area of possibilities.

Don't forget in-store promotions. Wal-Mart toyed with this option about 18 months ago, with short-duration promotions only available to customers when they were in-store. Barnes & Noble is trying its own twist on that approach now. Electronic book readers provide additional rich functionality, but only when the customer is in-store.

The point is that mobile done in-store provides a wide range of functionality opportunities—and IT deployment challenges—that simply don't exist outside the store. When crafting that monthly revised mobile strategy, make sure you have at least two mobile strategies. And please remember to articulate them using your inside voice.