Mobile is part of e-commerce, not a rival

For years, retail has clumsily struggled with various merged channel strategies. No changes in commission structure or bonus requirements have proved effective.

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For years, retail has clumsily struggled with various merged channel strategies. No changes in commission structure or bonus requirements have proved effective at getting chains to not prioritize in-store compared with e-commerce sales. There is simply too much bad history here.

But what is odd is watching retailers adding barriers in an attempt to differentiate mobile sales versus laptop/desktop sales — although they would probably label the differences as between mobile and e-commerce, as though mobile isn't part of e-commerce. That's the real problem.

I'm half-expecting chains to start separating purchases that came through Android devices versus iOS. For that matter, why not separate Samsung Android purchases versus Motorola Android? It makes just about as much sense.

For example, a search marketing firm called NetElixir has issued a report that has "mobile projected to account for about 30 percent of holiday season sales [so] it's likely to cut into the growth of other forms of e-commerce [because of] the tendency of consumers to spend less on mobile purchases than they spend via desktop," according to a story in Mobile Commerce Daily.

Other than making sure that their site pages all looked good on today's most popular mobile devices — which they should have known without being told — what's the point of differentiating the entry points?

Mobile devices are at the heart of merged channel because those handheld computers — and, yes, mobile phones are computers — make any other compensation approach ridiculous. How, for example, is a Macy's in-store-versus-online mentality supposed to deal with someone scanning a barcode in-store with a mobile device and then purchasing it from Macys.com? No need to worry about which division gets what percentage of the sale. It's a Macy's purchase and that's that.

The point is to look at purchases from the shopper's perspective. That is what retailers tell their shareholders, right? That they are so customer-centric? Shoppers see it as a Kohl's transaction or a Walmart purchase. They see as much meaningful distinction between mobile, laptop, desktop and in-store as they do entering the South entrance versus the West entrance. How they get to the products is irrelevant.

This is why policies that treat these various channels as different entities — with their own return policies and which coupons or payment cards are accepted policies — are ridiculous. Consider what Walmart did a few years ago when it debuted a pay-with-cash-online program. It carefully programmed it so that online purchases didn't morph into in-store purchases, even when it made sense for both the customer and the store to do just that.

Besides, even if it were desirable, there is no meaningful way to count mobile activities versus laptop/desktop or in-store ones. Let's say a customer is riding home on the train and uses his/her phone to spend 40 minutes on your site comparing various items and then looking up reviews, comments and demos. The customer chooses something and then goes to a physical store and spends one minute grabbing the item from the shelf and purchasing it.

Who gets the credit? Does that go to the mobile team? The e-commerce team? Is there a valid argument that it deserves to go to that store's revenue because the customer chose to not purchase it online, which is a testimonial to the wonderful store management? Or perhaps the customer simply wanted the item immediately and knew he/she was driving by that store on the way home anyway?

Merged channel is something that retailers love to talk about. I just wished it truly colored their day-to-day decisions more.

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