By Raeleen Kaesehagen, TEC Member and entrepreneur

It's a common story: retailers feeling the competition from online shopping. But now they have a tool to fight back and drive more customers in-store.

Welcome to the world of smartphone shopping. It's not on the horizon; it's already here.

Research is showing 45 per cent of smartphone users are using their phone and apps to shop. Smartphone shopping includes anything from finding a stockist, downloading directions to a store and browsing products to incentive-driven loyalty elements, such as receiving an offer or scanning your phone to qualify for a discount at the point of sale.

Whereas e-commerce website have traditionally encouraged people to shop from home, smartphones are now steering customers back to bricks-and-morter stores. By implementing loyalty marketing with a mobile-optimized loyalty site, businesses everywhere, from cafes and food retailers to fashion retailers, are increasing foot traffic.

The smartphone revolution is providing huge opportunities for the retail sector and loyalty programs in particular.

A big part of the attraction for customers is the opportunity for an impulse discount or offer. Over 90 per cent of smartphone owners will check their phone during work time and most will look at an app notification within 15 minutes of it being received. This means retailers can issue offers on short notice knowing they will reach their customers quickly. So a slow day in the store or the need to match a competitor’s offer can be quickly addressed.

Consumers are now less likely to carry around a store rewards card, print out a discount voucher or even check their email. A recent YouGov survey revealed 65 per cent of 1,950 people surveyed wanted more personalised loyalty scheme services from retailers including real-time offers to be sent to mobile devices.

Google research shows Australia has the second highest number of smartphones in the world with 37 per cent of Australians owning a smartphone. That percentage is expected to reach 50 by the end of 2011.

On average, smartphone users have 25 apps on their phone, a third of which they have paid for. This is higher than in most other countries but Australian retailers are slow to capitalise on the trend. Only 20 per cent of Australian retailers have a mobile optimised website.

A hurdle for smaller retailers in adapting to the new technology has been the lack of app-friendly website development services that are affordable and quick to set up – but this is changing. Specialist providers are now making it easy for such retailers to subscribe, log on and follow the steps to develop a mobile-friendly customer loyalty website. Such services go beyond generic loyalty apps. By integrating loyalty marketing with their own branded mobile site, retailers can get closer to their customers online than ever before.

If a retailer has missed the internet based shopping phase, they are better off going straight to smartphone and developing their own mobile site and app. This permission-based marketing is all about helping customers feel more connected and rewarded for their loyalty to a brand. By linking in-app notifications with a retailer’s Tweets and Facebook posts, customers can feel even more engaged.

If you're a bricks-and-morter retailer then know this: your customers are already on the move. Are you?