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Macy's "Backstage" Move Into Mobile May Not Get It the Access It Wants

Imagine you're browsing the bounty of goods in a major department store. You happen upon a garment from a celebrity designer and want to learn more. If you're in Macy's (M), now you can simply scan the QR (quick response) code on the hang tag with your smartphone, and a 30 second video from the likes of Rachel Roy or Sean (Diddy) Combs dishing on their product details and style tips will pop up.

Dubbed Macy's Backstage Pass, it's the retail giant's most recent gamble to convert browsers to buyers via mobile technology. Since the 2010 holiday season, Macy's has been flexing a formidable mobile muscle that bulged with an upgraded iPhone shopping app, a pilot of Shopkick -- a location-based shopping application -- and a partnership with Foursquare on a Bloomingdale's promotion.

Less about buying, more about branding. Yawn
Yet while these other initiatives were pretty straightforward efforts to get fashionistas to click and buy, Macy's foray into video features appears less about the purchase and more about branding. For example, customers downloading the Shopkick app earned "kickbucks" reward points for simply walking into a store with their handset.

The virtual currency could then be turned in for Facebook credits, song downloads, in-store gift rewards at Macy's, magazine subscriptions, iPods or charitable donations. The premise is so simple, it's no wonder Shopkick has already surpassed the 750,000 user mark since the August launch, according to Macy's.

With Backstage Pass, after viewing the 30 second flick, users will have the option to select longer length content that will take them further backstage with each designer or brand. Featured designers and experts include the contessa of cosmetics Bobbi Brown, iconic American designers Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, and a gaggle of fashion bloggers for Macy's newest exclusive collection, bar III. Martha Stewart and Madonna's Material Girl are set to debut their own videos soon.

As a branding exercise, Macy's gets kudos for leveraging such hard-won designer and celebrity collaborations in the mobile marketplace. However, Larry Pluimer, former Amazon (AMZN) executive and founder of Indigitous, a mobile technology consulting firm specializing in QR codes, told me that while any smart phone with decent camera will be able to interpret the code, video content will often lead the user to a URL. "That is where the difference in phones and the user experience becomes important," he notes.

Pluimer says:

At Indigitous, we say it's not about the codes -- it's about the experience. With respect to the Macy's initiative, time will tell whether the "Backstage Pass" experience will be something that consumers find valuable. To me, offering a shopper a short video clip usually suggests that the brand client is saying "this is about me," which tends to get a lukewarm reception from consumers interested in coupons and other rewards.
So even though Macy's is the first department store chain out of the gate to create a heavily branded mobile experience, if the point of the campaign was to facilitate purchases, Macy's may have fallen short.

At least it isn't the first to fall trying new e-commerce tricks. JCPenney (JCP) grabbed first place for having a fully-integrated shopping site on Facebook, but that effort was forward-thinking in name only. Navigating the site reveals the only thing trendy about it was the interface, the assortment of goods chosen were the chain's frumpiest staples.

Note to retailers: don't rush an application to the gate without carefully considering the consumer's experience. Failure to do so may result in chipping away brand loyalty -- not to mention sales.

Image via Macy's
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