Toy-seller displays target mobile shoppers
GalleriesCelebrating the holidays around LI Your holiday lights photos Your 'Scared of Santa' photos
Retailers this season are offering consumers a chance to shop just about anywhere, and for a few toy merchants that means catching the attention of time-pressed parents as they wait to board a train, plane or bus.
With the increasing use of smartphones as shopping tools, Sears Holdings Corp. and Toys R Us have installed billboards displaying pictures of toys and QR -- quick response -- codes to be scanned by commuters and shoppers with smartphones. In some cases these picture walls have been located in malls as well.
"We are trying to help people buy toys during the holiday season when it's not always convenient to get to where the toys are," said Julia Fitzgerald, chief digital engagement officer at Sears Holdings Corp. "With more and more people willing to shop on phones, the time is here."
Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart Corp., launched its mobile-shopping walls on Nov. 1, some displaying 30 of Sears' hottest toys for girls, boys and preschoolers and others showing Kmart's top 15 toys of the season. Toys R Us followed with its billboards on Nov. 29, also placing them in airports and some New Jersey Transit stations. Nickelodeon has its own version of a virtual "vending machine," also a billboard display, working with Toys R Us to fill orders for licensed Nickelodeon toys. One such virtual toy store is located in the Mall at the Source in Westbury.
Thirty-eight percent of cellphone owners said they use their cellphones to shop or browse for products, according to a survey released this month by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Forty percent said they find it useful to scan a bar code in a magazine, on a retail display or on a product with their smartphone, the survey said.
"If you want to look to the future, just look to Korea and Japan, where the mobile phone is more in use than it is here and definitely has become a shopping tool," said Barbara E. Kahn, director of the Baker center. "If it's working there, it's going to work here as people get more comfortable."
Mobile shopping could pose some perils to retailers' brick-and-mortar sales, said Jonathan Samet, publisher of The Toy Insider consumer guide. Retailers with operations in buildings should focus their efforts on driving customers into their off-line stores, he said.
"If brick-and-mortar retailers continue to fulfill orders without driving consumers into their stores, it could lead to their kiss of death," he said.
But these retailers insist they have to go where their customers want to shop. And they view their virtual-shopping walls as an experiment and a marketing tool.
"It's not a hard-hitting attempt to close a sale," said Bill Lee, vice president of retail marketing at Nickelodeon. "At the end of the day, any time we get a child or adult to stop, spend a couple of seconds in front of a virtual toy machine, admire it or critique it or tell friends, it's an extension of the brand."