Using Mobile to Build Brand Loyalty During the Holidays and Year-Round

You can't avoid the noise generated by holiday shopping this year; whether it's because of a slow news day or because people are tired of hearing about a somber economy.

This past Black Friday I was invited to speak on Fox News Channel to offer tips to consumers who might be worrying that they missed the best deals for the year. As I was preparing, it occurred to me that this is another case where focusing on the customer experience can make a huge difference when consumers interact with your brand.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me give a quick recap of the advice I provided to Fox News viewers. In short, the main theme of my commentary surrounded the fact that technologically connected consumers can find great deals even if they didn't (or couldn't stand to) brave the crowds early morning Black Friday crowds. As such, I provided the following key steps to finding the right deals in a quick and efficient manner:

1. Do your homework

Deal sites like fatwallet.com and bfads.net have aggregated the best deals by store or product to make it easier to target where to shop.

2. Get Prepared

Load your smart phone with retailers apps so you can check availability in store, search for additional special offers, discounts, or coupons, and leverage any convenience features the retailers offer (like the option to have your items shipped or picked up in-a local store). Popular stores like Target, American Eagle Outfitters, and Toys R Us all have their own apps, as do most other large retailers.

Download price check apps like those offered by Amazon and eBay. This allows you to scan barcodes while you're in the store for immediate confirmation of availability. One thing to keep in mind: Some stores use unique SKUs so you may not be able to make direct comparisons, which means price comparisons will have to be done manually. Get a QR code reader so you can look up additional information about tagged products.

3. Make it fun

Many great apps can alleviate bargain shopping-induced stress and give you additional ways to save. For example, Shopkick (which is a great example of SoLoMo--social/location/mobile media) lets you score points for entering stores and finding merchandise scavenger hunt style, as well as earn discounts or gift cards.

The recurring theme in my advice was convenience for the consumer, and improving their customer experience. When thinking about brand interaction, it's important to consider whether the experience builds a strong brand image in the customer's mind.

Looking back on the advice I gave on Fox News and thinking through some in-store experiences of my own, I thought it may be worthwhile to add the following points for consideration when planning for the post-holiday rush--and when mapping out your 2012 mobile strategy.

First, it's important to understand whether mobile applications will work in a store. Many stores haven't installed free WiFi and that might make all the difference for a connected shopper. If a shopper is looking at items in the back of a store with spotty mobile coverage, will this be a turn off to the connected consumer?

Next, providing the right information at the right time can be the difference in conversion. Consider whether you're presenting enough information on your website or mobile app to convince a consumer that you're offering the exact merchandise, both for a good deal and as a efficiently as possible. As we've seen many times over, it's not always the best price that wins the day (though that certainly helps), but also the experience differentiators. For example, convenience factors like immediate pickup may trump the price relative to someone like Amazon, and as such, should be highlighted. Additionally, consider when you don't have something in stock; are the right channels in place to get merchandise to consumers on time? This can make all the difference in converting shoppers to buyers.

Finally, "gamifying" the experience, or making it as fun as possible, can have a positive effect on the customer experience. Making an already stressful holiday shopping experience as pleasurable and intriguing as possible is a simple step towards building brand loyalty. By offering promotions or special deals to connected consumers who are willing to go beyond the hunt for the best deal, you can be sure that you're not only building the customer experience for the holiday season, but also year-round.