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FEATURED SPEAKER - Danny Sullivan, Sephora's vice president of mobile discusses how mobile is changing retail

Next week’s Apps World North America will include the launch of a new track dedicated to Retail and which will include a keynote panel looking at how mobiles and tablets are changing the consumer experience. Here we catch up with pannellist Sephora’s vice president of mobile Danny Sullivan to find out how he believes new technologies will continue to shape retail.

What are customers demanding from the new world of mobile and tablet retail?

“A high quality digital experience is key. An appropriate feature set that is straightforward to use and accomplish desired tasks without errors or dead ends is now expected. On the tablet side, a more hybrid experience that takes advantage of the best of gestures and the larger screen size is still pretty rare, so those companies that have it can be seen as standouts.”

What are the biggest benefits of mobile and tablets for retailers over traditional ecommerce?

“Having the user always use the same device and therefore staying signed in – it makes for a faster, more personalized experience.”

What are the biggest challenges?

“On mobile, screen size and bandwidth make for, by necessity, a less rich experience. For tablet, inertia and other priorities are the bogeymen – the PC experience works well enough that most folks have focused their efforts elsewhere.”

How do you harmonise the experience – eg customers don’t care about the challenges of instigating single customer views or single stock pools but these are essential to a successful omnichannel experience.

“You realize that realizing this vision is a classic example of the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration ratio. The ideas and “common sense view” of the future state is everywhere now. That doesn’t make it substantially easier to build, especially when marrying legacy systems to these modern technologies. So you chart a course, you make incremental improvements, and you step on the gas pedal. Moving fast and breaking things is fine; moving fast and getting it right the first time is still better though, no?”

What are the biggest innovations in this area that Sephora has introduced and what are you planning in the next 12 months?

“Our loyalty program information is available and up to date across our app and Passbook, in addition to the PC and mobile web experiences. In the next year, we’re going to continue to hang more relevant data from user profiles in the right places everywhere.”

Have we gone past the era of showrooming now with retailers engaging more in store or does more need to be done?

“More needs to be done – more will always need to be done – but I think many retailers are taking positive steps that are brand and user-base appropriate.”

How important are apps that truly engage rather than those are simply an entry into a retailer’s mobile site for retailers?

“I wouldn’t underestimate apps being a good entry way into a purchase path – that’s still an incredibly important use case for most users. In the case of app vs. web, there are definitely advantages to be had in strengthening the app experience, particularly for your power users and/or best customers, who are most likely to download and frequently use the app. It’s a great tool that can be but does NOT have to be lowest common denominator, so you can really hone the interactions to be optimized for your diehards.”

How mobile do customers truly want to be when they are shopping? Ie should the mobile and tablet experience still complement the instore experience or replace it?

“Some users just prefer digital experiences. Some love the analog. Some have a preference for certain product categories. For us, the tactile experience is so fundamental that unless those engineering savants at MIT can quickly miniaturize that board that lets people feel textures of objects over distances – and add fragrance notes to it – digital is supplemental inside our stores, and in no danger of taking over. Our goal is to make it as valuable as possible to accentuate the best parts of the shopping experience.”

Hear more from Danny as well as from Shutterfly, IDC, Staples and uTest in the Retail Keynote panel session on Day 2 of Apps World North America

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