Dell and Rue La La gave examples at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum.

Even the most forward-thinking retailers and brands are new at marketing to consumers via their smartphones and tablet computers. And marketers are still learning what doesn’t work and what does—and finding those gold nuggets of ideas that are blockbuster hits.

In the latter category is Dell Inc.’s experience when it began optimizing marketing e-mails in fall 2011 so they display well on smartphones and tablet computers: consumers open those e-mails five to 10 times more often than previous e-mails designed for computers, and revenue is growing accordingly, Brandon McGee, director of Dell’s global mobile team, told attendees today at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum 2012.

“It was our first complete deep dive into mobile-optimized e-mail,” McGee said. “This was a catalyst to help the company step back and say, ‘We have to be more serious about this.’”

McGee spoke at a session entitled “Mobile chiefs map out mobile marketing” along with Tom Weisand, vice president of user experience at Rue La La, an online retailer whose members-only site offers limited quantities of fashion apparel, home furnishings and other items at 11 a.m. Eastern time each day. About 37% of Rue La La’s sales now come from mobile devices, up from 2% in January 2010, and the e-retailer has learned some lessons about the mobile marketing tactics that pay off.

One recent insight was that mobile consumers respond to a bit of mystery. Rue La La tested two types of push notifications to registered customers: one that offered a specific item or brand, such as Hermes, and another that teased the customer with text like “Extend the weekend. Keep shopping.” The teaser approach produced a 60% higher open rate, Weisand reported.


The e-retailer also has added a feature called Right Now to its iPhone app that lets a consumer see the items just purchased on Rue La La, when they were purchased and which ones are almost gone. “It creates a little theater for people,” Weisand said. Consumers who use this feature are 30% more likely than others to buy, he said.

Weisand explained that Rue La La has apps for the iPhone and Android smartphones and for the iPad, but not Android tablets. He said 80% of sales and downloads of its apps have been to Apple devices. In fact, the average order value on the iPad is higher than on computers or smartphones, and the conversion rate is higher on the iPad than on smartphones, though not on PCs.

He said Rue La La’s mobile site produces 35% of its mobile sales, and is geared for the customer who wants to quickly find an item and buy. On the retailer’s mobile apps, which generate the remaining 65% of mobile sales, there is more content and brand promotion. But the best customer is the one who shops Rue La La, across computer, smartphone and tablet: she is 540% more likely to buy than other members of the flash sale site, Weisand said.

McGee said Dell has seen some improvements in mobile marketing, particularly from the emergence of what are called demand-side advertising platforms that let a brand target customers based on behavior—for example, delivering a banner ad to a shopper who searched for the term “laptop” and then visited two or three related mobile web pages. Buying mobile advertising through those ad systems produces an average cost per conversion for Dell of $1.52, compared to nearly $5 for conventional mobile ad networks. “We tried this a couple of years ago, and it was too early,” McGee said. “But now we’re using it and we’re excited by the results.”

Less successful has been advertising via text messaging. McGee said Dell tried it more than a year ago, saw some consumers use it, and then it tapered off. He says Dell will do some more of this during the upcoming holiday season, creating marketing pages for new products and inviting consumers to sign up to receive discounts or notification of availability via text message. “We’re just a little more selective about how and when we use it,” he said.


The main thing is to measure every campaign and to report the results to senior management, to keep them abreast of what’s working and excited about the potential for mobile marketing and commerce, McGee said.

He sends out a weekly report on his mobile campaigns. “Sometimes I get a smiley face back, or a ‘Hey, great numbers,’ and sometimes I don’t get a response,” McGee said. “But I know they’re looking at it, because sometimes two or three weeks later someone will say to me, ‘Hey, great Memorial Day campaign.’ Start with metrics and use them to evangelize.”