How retailers go mobile and do it well – examples from Gilt, Zappos, Starbucks and more!


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Many times when going mobile, brick-and-mortar or web first retailers try to replicate their website in a mobile app or site. However, looking at the retailers currently thriving in mobile, you typically see a unique edge; they’re trying things on mobile that aren’t possible or useful on the web. When these unique tacks work, they result in outsize results (relative to peers) in terms of users, revenue, or critical review. From looking at our customer base and the mobile landscape at large, we’ve found that retailers thriving in mobile typically

1. have a high customer lifetime value, that is

2. driven by word of mouth + repeat purchases over time (as opposed to large one-time purchases)

3. use mobile’s unique characteristics to build loyalty and drive results

Here are 3 strategies being employed by web-first/offline retailers, that have worked in mobile.

Mobile + Social audience building and harvesting

Businesses like Clae, DoubleHighFive and NastyGal use Instagram to build an audience which helps extend their influence. These three are fashion brands, and by being periodically in your Instagram feed, they not only keep you engaged, but they stay top of mind for that moment when you see something you love, or something that’s perfect as a gift.

DH5: DoubleHigh5

DH5: DoubleHigh5

Above – an example from DoubleHighFive

Sometimes, they even use these channels to push their deals. Below is a recent one from Clae Shoes
Clae Deals

Clae Deals

Zappos, the popular online shoe retailer, takes it one step further. In our Zappos Case Study, we recount how Zappos Mobile engaged its Twitter audience – using Twitter not only as a support channel, but also as a way to surprise and delight shoppers during the holiday season, with $25 gift cards for randomly selected shoppers tweeting about their wish lists. For example:

Zappos Social Media Example

Zappos Social Media Example

The results of this proactive strategy were clear. As Jim Green, lead for the MobSki team said:

“Getting the word out about our app was definitely worth whatever amount of money we spent on the gift cards”

Exploiting impulse

At last count, Gilt Groupe sees ~15% of weekday sales coming from mobile, and ~30% on the weekends. These numbers surged to ~40% during the last holiday season. As a Gilt shopper I’ve seen 2 distinct, consistent patterns in their approach:

Push notifications: they utilize these in a way that few others do. This is partly due to Gilt’s roots as a flash retailer – every day there’s a sale, I get an email 15 minutes before the sale (11.45am) and and push notifications from the iOS apps at 11.59am, and at other times when they have sales that are tailored to me.

Mobile exclusive deals: this ranges from deals on specific products, to options like free shipping on mobile purchases.


The impetus is on the shopper to buy now, not only because the items they want might sell out, but also because they’re getting a better overall deal.

The daily push notifications might not be appropriate for you if you’re not a flash retailer, but coordinating your push marketing with your email marketing (or at least complimenting each other) is probably good practice, as is tailoring the deals.

Deepening Engagement with your brand

One of the best examples of this I’ve seen in practice is Starbucks iPhone app. They employ what I like to call the “embrace-extend-engage” approach.

Embrace: The Starbucks iPhone app embraces all the things you’d expect of an offline retailer going mobile – a menu of items offered in store, information about different coffees, a store locator and more.

Extend: In addition, it extends the Starbucks instore experience with the option to pay for your products via the app, with loyalty cards, and with rewards programs.

Engage: This is most surprising – Starbucks provides weekly deals with different offers. Sometimes those are for items you can only redeem in store, but sometimes, they’re a free song download, or a free app download (both redeemed via iTunes).



This use case extends far beyond the Starbucks store (you dont even have to be near one to use it) and helps Starbucks translate its sizable offline audience into influence in the mobile ecosystem. In a way its also an extension of Starbucks longstanding practice of promoting music in-store, and just as Starbucks sometimes sell CDs instore, its not inconcievable that they might one day sell whole albums via the Starbucks app.

Not all of these will apply to everyone, but you might be able to apply some to your business if you’re a retailer going mobile. Have you seen more unique retail approaches to mobile? We’d LOVE to hear them ([email protected])

Ayo Omojola
Ayo Omojola is founder and CEO of Hipmob ( Hipmob is a YC backed company that brings the best sales, customer service, helpdesk and live chat tools for businesses going mobile. Check us out at


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