Wet Seal CEO: Mobile drives retail and online sales

While many of its competitors are still wondering where mobile fits in, apparel and accessories retailer Wet Seal has gone ahead and tackled mobile commerce head-on with good results.

In a presentation last week at eTail West in Palm Desert, CA, that will be mirrored today at the Mobile Boot Camp organized by Mobile Commerce Daily and the National Retail Federation, Wet Seal director of ecommerce and direct marketing Jon Kosoff outlined what works and does not work with mobile.

“Our demo is perfect for mobile,” Mr. Kosoff said. “Mobile drives retail sales and online sales and influences store sales.”

Indeed, Wet Seal’s products are typically bought by women ages 13-25 – the same demographic that is mobile-savvy. This customer base frequents Wet Seal’s 420 stores spread across 48 states and now on the retailer’s mobile Web site, applications and SMS.

Once mobile’s growing role in its target audience’s life was realized, Wet Seal went ahead and worked with mobile commerce specialist Digby. The company launched its iRunway application in September, followed three months later with a mobile Web site.

Cross-channel influence

What it has observed since these launches is key.

For example, more than half of its smartphone user base visited the mobile application and site for holiday shopping.  

As suspected, the retailer found that mobile influenced purchases beyond those made on the phone.

Even better, Wet Seal online traffic from mobile browsers increased three times in 2009 versus 2008, Mr. Kosoff said.

And it was not all application and mobile Web.

Mr. Kosoff noticed that SMS outperformed email in an A/B test. Wet Seal primarily uses text as a direct marketing initiative, particularly as a contest sign-up tool in its stores.

Runaway hit
That said, the retailer is especially proud of its iRunway application that leverages its online infrastructure.

Consumers can search and view 25,000 outfits on the application, shopping by trends generated through its social media interactions on its wired Web site. Then there is the iRunway outfit lookup by style.

“That’s how we’re leveraging all the Web data and bringing it to the app,” Mr. Kosoff said. “That’s leveraging all the customer-generated data.” 

The mobile site is no slouch, either.

Available at, the mobile site is accessible on all devices. Visitors can search, browse and buy from the retailer’s fully transactional catalog.

Simplicity is what drove the site design, from the homepage to the product detail page. Consumers can also register on the mobile site.

“One of the challenges with mobile is how you make it simple,” Mr. Kosoff said. “If you’ve registered on our Web site, we pull that information.”

An email campaign conducted in January saw a 44 percent increase in traffic to Wet Seal’s mobile site. Of that, 60 percent came from iPhone users, 15 percent from Android phones, 13 percent from BlackBerry devices and the rest from other phones.

Buoyed by the reception to its Wet Seal brand’s mobile efforts, the retailer last week launched a mobile presence for its Arden B brand.

Targeting the older 25-35 demographic who shop its 81 Arden B stores nationwide, the retailer this time made sure to pay more attention to better imagery.

Key lessons

So what did Wet Seal learn from this entire exercise?

First, get started early to benefit from early interactions and then fine-tune strategy and tactics.

Second, customers like to choose the way they want to shop. So offer them as many options as possible.

Third, extend the mobile experiences across channels – online and in-store – and optimize. Mobile is often the bridge between other channels.

Fourth, focus on core competency and technology to create excitement within the target customer base.

Finally, integrate customer feedback.

“Mobile is a fast-moving segment, so be prepared to change,” Mr. Kosoff said.

Mobile gift cards next

What is next for Wet Seal?

First is the ability to order on mobile phone and pick up in store, quite similar to its ecommerce sites.

Next up is mobile gift cards and tendering.

If that is not enough, Wet Seal is working on social media integration from mobile application to social media site.

Of course, mobile brings up the same issue that online did a decade ago: Is the mobile presence cannibalizing or extending sales?

In essence, what Mr. Kosoff was asked by a member of the audience was whether its mobile applications, sites and SMS program generated incremental demand. The answer was predictable.

“Incrementality is very hard to track,” Mr. Kosoff said.

Here are some pictures taken by Mickey Alam Khan during the presentation: