On top of their usual blitz of holiday ads in newspapers, on TV and on the Web, retailers are testing a new marketing medium this year: the cellphone.
Shoppers who sign up with Nordstrom or Wal-Mart, for example, will receive text messages with information on discounted merchandise and special sales. Best Buy is offering gift suggestions on its mobile Web site. J.C. Penney is going further, offering to make wake-up calls to early-bird shoppers eager to get a head start on Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the frenzied holiday retail season. Many J.C. Penney stores will open at 4 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.
Companies have begun using mobile phones to market everything from electronics to cars to apparel and footwear. Some retailers, such as Nordstrom, want to relay information only through text, while others, including J.C. Penney, are using mobile Websites to try to engage consumers.
A major challenge for marketers is deciphering how much cellphone advertising consumers will tolerate. J.C. Penney and others say they target only consumers who sign up to receive the messages, and even then are careful not to bombard them. Typically, the retailers send out text messages from once every few weeks to a few times a week.
Retailers are adding cellphones to their marketing playbooks at a time when the effectiveness of television ads is being questioned, as more viewers change the channel or fast-forward through the commercials. Marketers say they are encouraged by studies showing that about 80% of Americans use cellphones, and about 60% of those people text message.
"Kids may be the early adopters, but they're teaching their parents," said Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer for J.C. Penney. "We knew we needed some experience in this space. We didn't want to get caught flat-footed," he said.
J.C. Penney added mobile marketing to its holiday campaign based on the response it got from a back-to-school mobile-marketing effort this year. Aimed at teenagers and preteens, it included video clips, wallpaper for cellphones, ring tones, style advice and text-message alerts on new products.
For its holiday campaign, J.C. Penney created a mobile Website, along with its text-message system. On the site, consumers will find a gallery that includes images of 64 different gifts. Consumers can email images of gifts they like to themselves or friends. They also can download wallpaper, Christmas-themed ring tones and songs including "All That I Want" by The Weepies, which is featured in the company's TV ad. (info & photo from The Wall Street Journal)