While sitting down with a friend at a bar over this weekend, our server saw our smartphones on the table and asked if we were playing Pokemon Go.

When I replied that I was, she advised me the bar was a “PokeStop” and I could take advantage of the items available there. If I was lucky, maybe a few wild Pokemon would show up while I was sipping on my cold brew.

Given that small businesses have been using Pokemon Go’s real-world location tie-ins to full marketing effect since before it was launched in Canada, I wasn’t surprised. But the mobile game’s popularity and the sheer number of people either playing it or at least paying attention to it helps to illustrate a larger trend at play right now: mobile is the best channel to engage with consumers whether you’re an online or offline business.

The fact that people’s behaviour can be influenced through their smartphones should have been beyond doubt long ago. But what Pokemon Go shows so clearly is that smartphones can convince to take actions in the real world they otherwise wouldn’t, not just in the digital realm. Chasing that elusive Pokemon will get people to leave their house, enter a business, or even socialize with strangers that happen to be at the same “gym” as them.

A story in the Globe and Mail today outlines some of the statistics showing the growing importance of mobile as a sales channel. E-commerce software vendor Demandware reports that 45.1 per cent of web-shopping traffic came from smartphones in the first quarter of 2016, edging out desktop traffic at 45 per cent for the first time ever. It’s no fluke either, with the trend predicted to continue to favour mobile and reach 60 per cent of traffic by the end of next year. While ecommerce sales are growing, they still sit at under 10 per cent of all retail sales. But that doesn’t mean that retailers feel they can wait to act – the leaders are already using apps to improve the customer experience in-store too.

Take Walmart Canada for example. Its Online Shopping app is a convenient way for its most loyal customers to shop online, but as Rick Neuman, the executive vice-president of ecommerce for Walmart Canada explained to me, the hope is the app will help drive people into the brick and mortar stores too. A barcode reader can be used to scan an empty cereal box, adding it to your shopping list for your next visit. In Toronto and Ottawa, customers can select a cart full of fresh groceries and pick them up at a scheduled time. Or a favourites list can be used to organize your shopping list, replacing that note you forgot pinned to the fridge.

Walmart joins other leading retailers, including Candian Tire and Loblaw, in using apps to provide in-store utility and reasons to have your smartphone in one hand while you’ve got your basket in the other.

But not every retailer will be able to develop and distribute a mobile app effectively. Even for those who do, more studies are showing that while consumers will install a lot of apps on their smartphones, they only tend to use about four or five of them most of the time. So if app fatigue sets in and retailers find they can’t push their own apps, they’ll be looking to engage customers on the apps they’re already using.

Time to set a lure at the nearest PokeStop and promise free ice cream to anyone from Team Mystic.

I’ll be talking more about mobile trends in retail at the Retail Tech Expo and Conference in Toronto on July 26. Here are my slides:

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  • Exactly! No matter if we like it or not, we must understand that this game is a game-changer. It made people move, stand up from their chairs and go looking fo Pokemons and meet other player. We should learn from it, because this is just the first one, many more are just about to come up.