Ringing up sales [telecom]

Ringing up sales Phones are retailers' latest route to back-to-school shoppers' wallets

By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff | July 23, 2010

Merchants looking to boost sales during the critical back-to-school season are courting students where they spend most of their time - on their phones.

Kmart is planning next week to blast out daily text messages with promotions for the back-to-school season. J.C. Penney Co. is displaying interactive ads on iPhone apps that allow users to view new outfit combinations for the fall and find the closest store. And American Eagle Outfitters this week is giving away free smartphones to consumers just for trying on a pair of jeans - no purchase necessary.

"Mobile is the way to reach consumers, especially college students and younger, right at their fingertips,'' said Ben Dolgoff, cofounder of Peekaboo Mobile, a new app developed in Boston that uses GPS technology in phones to find deals from nearby stores and restaurants. Dolgoff is working with dozens of merchants, including Subway, Beacon Hill Athletic Club, and Boston Common Coffee, to launch mobile coupons aimed at area college students for the back-to-school season.

Many retailers are realizing they can no longer afford to neglect the mobile space, especially for back-to-school, the second-biggest shopping period after the holidays. Consumers last year spent about $1.2 billion on goods and services purchased via mobile phones and the market is expected to reach $2.1 billion by the end of this year, according to Mark Beccue, a senior analyst with ABI Research in New York.

Retail analysts say the mobile push is especially critical this year as businesses attempt to combat sluggish consumer spending. The National Retail Federation reported that overall back-to-school spending will increase to $55.12 billion, but average spending for college students is expected to dip slightly.

While some mobile deals send consumers straight to merchants' websites, American Eagle is trying to lure shoppers into stores with its denim giveaway. Every customer who tries on a pair of jeans between July 21 and Aug. 3 receives a free smartphone after signing up for a two-year service plan, starting at about $40 per month without data. Shoppers can choose from more than 40 phones, including the $500 Droid by Motorola, and customers also receive a $25 gift card redeemable online or in American Eagle stores.


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