By Jeff Weidauer, VP Marketing, Vestcom International
All too often in recent years, retailers seeking to engage shoppers have trumpeted new technologies without taking care to ensure the benefits were actually directed to the shopper. Technology, such as new kiosks, was installed in stores, often with great fanfare, and these programs tested well at first due to the novelty effect as customers tried out the devices. But once the newness wore off, shoppers returned to their habits and the equipment was quietly removed.
Shoppers have demonstrated time and again they are willing to change a habit if there is a perceived benefit. The solution lies in putting technology where the shopper is—and increasingly, the shopper these days is on her smart phone.
In the past 20 years, few technology-driven changes have been more pervasive than the mobile phone, and today marketers are scrambling to find ways to utilize these devices. The focus so far has been on mobile coupons, with some success. As newspaper circulation declines, and freestanding insert distribution becomes ever more challenging, mobile phones are an obvious and effective way to drive purchases. Not surprisingly, younger shoppers are more likely to seek out savings via the Web or mobile, and these are the folks with growing families and a need for greater value.
The downside of mobile coupons is the back-end cost of redemption, which makes a successful promotion increasingly expensive. Coupons are also the most basic of triggers for shopper engagement, with little long-term loyalty benefit.
The logical question then is: What’s next? How do we make the most of this pocket-sized kiosk and provide loyalty-building communications to shoppers?
One idea is a new service called Aisle 411. Testing now in Springfield, Missouri, Aisle 411 allows shoppers in store to use mobile phones to get directions to any item on their list. While this is a great start, it really doesn’t make full use of the power of a smart phone. Why not an application that:
- Keeps your shopping list
- Remembers your purchase history that can be accessed as needed
- Adds GPS functionality so the phone knows which store you’re heading to and re-orders a shopping list accordingly as to that store’s layout
- Incorporates shopper-specific offers based on shopping behavior—and therefore extremely relevant offers that can influence the shopper while she is in the store.
A number of consumer packaged goods brands have introduced iPhone apps that give consumers direct access to the brand and include recipe ideas, nutrition info and special offers. But the reality is shoppers are not going to download all the brand applications that come down the pike. More realistic is an application offered by a retailer, store-branded and shopper-focused, that enhances the entire shopping experience, starting from home and the creation of the shopping list.
The greater challenge in using technology as a practical tool is ensuring the accuracy of the data and the ongoing relevance of the offering. Novelty will drive trial for many, but continuing value is the only way to keep people using the service or application. Its longevity is a function of how effective it is in making our lives easier.
A retailer’s in-house IT group is not equipped to manage data at this level or sort through it for insights to deliver meaningful communication to shoppers. Going to a third-party expert will be necessary when thinking about capitalizing on mobile technology for shopper engagement and loyalty.
Retailers contemplating a mobile marketing program are on the right track, but they should be sure to consider long-term benefits over short-term sales growth, loyalty factors and how this medium can truly improve the experience for their shoppers.
Jeff Weidauer VP Marketing for Vestcom International Inc., a provider of technological retail solutions based in Little Rock, Ark. He can be reached at email@example.com, or visit www.vestcom.com.