By  on June 13, 2007

Urban Outfitters launched a text-messaging program last week that could be a first step toward mobile commerce, where consumers shop by cell phone.

The messaging program, called UO TXT, is only a test, said Julie Bornstein, managing director of Urban Outfitters Direct, which includes the brand's Web site and catalogue business. There are no immediate plans to offer mobile commerce, but the texting program should provide insights about interacting with shoppers via their phones.

"The reality is that most phones don't have the capacity to do what you want,"; but that will change, she said. "We see the mobile phone being instrumental in the future. We will evolve as technology evolves.";

Consumers who sign up for the UO TXT program in stores or online receive immediate confirmation via text message. Bornstein said those who opt in will receive early notice on sales, alerts for special in-store events like concerts and other offers. No more than two messages will be sent to a shopper's cell phone each month, she added.

Other retailers are experimenting with text messaging, also known as Short Message Service. Meijer, the $13 billion grocery and general merchandise chain based in Grand Rapids, Mich., sends text alerts just before it raises gasoline prices, so drivers can fill their tanks before the price increases.

Moosejaw Mountaineering, a Madison Heights, Mich., outdoor apparel retailer, invited consumers to play a "rock, paper, scissors"; game via text messaging and drew a 66 percent response rate.

Bornstein said Urban Outfitters will enhance the online checkout process soon after it upgrades to a new electronic commerce platform this summer. Software from Cambridge, Mass.-based Allurent will replace the series of checkout pages that shoppers now wade through with a single screen that changes dynamically as information is entered. Industry sources say the less arduous checkout process reduces abandonment rates.

This month, Urban Outfitters sister brand Anthropologie will adopt the new e-commerce platform from Art Technology Group of Cambridge, Mass. The Urban Outfitters and Free People Web sites will migrate to that system later this summer, Bornstein said.

The new platform has greater capacity for traffic surges, to eliminate unexpected outages, and will support greater functionality and richer features, she added.

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