By Hilmi Ozguc, Swirl

Smartphones will become smart personal shopping assistants. Whether it’s discovering new products, helping shoppers plan their next shopping trip, accessing personalized services and offers while shopping in the store, or paying with a mobile wallet, smartphones are an integral part of the shopping experience. Today’s guest post is from Hilmi Ozguc, CEO of Swirl, a personal shopping app developer.

Mobile is the bridge between ecommerce and in-store retail. More and more retailers will continue to enable shoppers with tools that connect the virtual world to the real world. From instantly purchasing products to accessing product information or unique offers while shopping in-store, consumers will connect with more and more brands using their smartphones in new and exciting ways in 2013.

  • Retailers need to think about mobile in the context of the entire customer experience. Buying products on the phone (m-commerce) isn’t very compelling for consumers. What is, is using mobile to enhance their shopping experience when they are on the go. Locating stores, checking inventory, accessing sales/discount codes, accessing past purchases, reviewing wish lists, accessing styling tips/editorial while browsing in store, replacing plastic loyalty cards, etc. are all ways that physical shopping experience can be enriched in a practical way with mobile.
  • Retailers need to develop their mobile strategies around specific customer segments. Brand loyalists or die-hards might be willing to download a retailer-specific mobile app (in which case the mobile app should be more geared toward engagement and rewarding loyalty rather than acquiring new customers/spend) but the much larger opportunity for retailers is the broader group of consumers who may be casual customers or non-customers of the brand. For this large group, it is unlikely that they will download a retailer-specific app. This is where the marketplace opportunity comes in. By joining a broader shopping marketplace, brands get exposure to the broad audience and consumers get value from having lots of brands in one place. It’s like Pandora (a single app that provides exposure for lots of artists) vs. asking consumers to download a separate app for each artist.
  • Winners will be those who integrate all of their channels (retail stores, web, mobile) in a seamless way. Lots of retailers still treat online and stores as two completely different entities with separate merchandise, inventory, etc. Mobile is stuck in between and most of the time it is used to support ecommerce rather than in-store. Leaders like Nordstrom and Ann Taylor are tying all of the channels together – allowing web and smartphone users to find in-story styles and inventory, allowing in-store shoppers to access inventory from other stores, etc.
  • Take advantage of location-based capabilities of mobile phones to help consumers when they are out shopping. At a minimum, mobile apps that identify the nearest store locations and provide directions help shoppers who are in planning or shopping mode. Apple’s Passbook functionality is an incredibly valuable tool for retailers. Integration of this iPhone feature with existing mobile apps and websites allows consumers to save offers to a centralized mobile wallet for easy access when they are out shopping. Shoppers receive a mobile alert when they are in the vicinity of a store for which they have a saved offer.

Hilmi Ozguc is the CEO of Swirl ( Swirl is reinventing the shopping experience for today’s fashion-conscious consumer with a mobile/social platform that becomes an indispensable shopping companion by helping consumers make the most out of every shopping trip.