2011.25 | Trade Privacy for Convenience

All retailers want to understand their customer better to sell more stuff.  In order to gain an understanding data must be gathered to build customer profiles.  Loyalty or member based card programs were instituted to gather data.  Consumers were and are willing to give up some privacy in return for a reduced price or special offers.  As technology has matured and become ubiquitous, privacy has become more precious to some.  Pricing has become increasingly competitive, and one can only discount so much.

One strategy for driving loyalty and gathering data is by offering convenience in return for taking part in a loyalty program.  One relevant current example is Starbucks’ mobile payment which is available to customers with a registered Starbucks card, and nobody else.  While there are benefits like a free shot of syrup and a free birthday beverage, these are standard items.  More exciting to customers is being able to pay quickly and simply every day, and it can only by done by registered customers.   What if we were to take this registered user benefit further?  Some examples:

  • A customer has coupons and offers tied directly to their card.  The customer only requires a reminder to buy the product to obtain the offer.  No need for customers to clip coupons or remember to bring them along.  When the loyalty card is scanned, and then a product is scanned, the customer gets the special price automatically.  With newer software solutions, this connectivity to the card can get granular enough that individual prices can be offered to individual segments or even individual customers if retailers wish to do so.  Not having to remember pieces of paper in the digital age is a benefit to consumers, and obtaining unexpected offers breeds loyalty.
  • Price guarantees are often provided over a certain time period.  In the online world, pre-orders have price guarantees that are provided automatically.  Why should customers have to go back to stores to ask for their credit?  Why not allow loyalty card holders or high value clients automatic refunds for price guarantees?  While it’s not practical for grocery, it can be done for general merchandise, fashion, and any large ticket items.  While it sounds counter-intuitive to give funds back, it is currently rare enough that it will drive confidence in a retailer to encourage return business on profitable large ticket items.
  • Loyalty customers could be eligible to receive e-receipts.  Retailers like Old Navy and Sears already provide such platforms, however there are some potential holes in the solution as it exists today.  First, if a customer has to provide an email address, there is always a chance that the receipt could go to the wrong place, and the customer will not have a receipt – a potential problem for both parties.  Second, providing e-mail addresses will soon start to slow down the check-out process.  Using a loyalty card or even an account number attached to the card will provide a quicker checkout experience and a database for the receipts.  Apple Stores already effectively do this using a customer’s Apple ID for the transaction based on the customer’s credit card swipe.
  • If a customer leaves an item behind at POS or Self-checkout, they can automatically receive an SMS message to ensure that they have all of their items with them.  This could be triggered by a button on the POS linked to the customer’s loyalty card which has the customer’s mobile number.  If the customer registers their mobile with the loyalty program, when they cash out, the cashier could have a button on their screen that allows them to SMS previous customers a standard message indicating that they should ensure that they did not leave anything behind.
Privacy for lower prices is common enough in the retail landscape.  There are many more creative outlets possible given all of the details in today’s technology.  Sooner or later, a savvy retailer will cash in on these potential differentiators.  These benefits are still novel today, and can win an audience accustomed to convenience and novelty.  Best of all, it uses technology in a way consumers love – in a manner that is ideally transparent to the user.

2011.07 | eBooks – Are Bookstores Dead?

eBooks are a topic on everyone’s technology discussion list these as of late.  For a great overview of what is taking place in this industry, listen to the excellent podcast Closing the Book by Sean Prpick from CBC’s Ideas.  A recent post on CBC’s Spark also discussed new creative directions for digital publishers. 

The recent bankruptcy of Borders Books in the US has certainly brought home the weight of the changes taking place.  The Kindle is Amazon’s best selling item of all time, and eBooks seem poised to overtake paperbacks and hardcover books in sales – at least at Amazon.  The New York Time is also going to start publishing a best sellers list for eBooks. 

While I knew it was a big deal when the Kindle came out in 2007, and then the Kobo and iPad in 2010, but it really struck me that the eBook was mainstream when my mother asked whether she should get an iPad, Kindle, Kobo, or Sony eReader.  I used to think eReading was for geeks at the airport reading books on their Palm Pilots.  These gadgets are for your mom now.  (Just don’t try to explain to her how she can access the internet for free on her Kindle without it being connected to anything.  Trust me.)

For eBooks, the store is now a device instead of a brick and mortar structure.  Realizing that it was important to be competitive in this new reality, many of the eReader providers have developed software that easily crosses platforms to avoid customers getting locked into a store with a device as much as possible.  Most of the of main reading solutions are able to be used on multiple devices – providing access to your reading material on the eReaders PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, Android phones and ereaders.  For eBooks in Canada, one can use software based reading applications such as Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, GoodReader, Stanza and more.  Consumers can now hear about a book, comparison shop across various stores and purchase a book in the time it takes to get out of the house and get into a car.   The eReading app even remembers where you were in the book when you open it on a different device.

Exclusivity with one or another bookstore by certain authors can make it more costly to obtain some books, but it seems that the publishing houses (and retailers) have learned from the staggering success of iTunes to ensure that there is availiability of titles via multiple bookstores, so there is a greater opportunity to shop around more quickly than there was with music in the early days.  The process is so simple that my mom can do it without thinking. Bookstores not connected to any reader are also popping up a lot faster than music sites did – sites like: eBooks.com and Google eBookstore.  Most avid readers also know that there are millions of free books available online at the retail bookstores as well as via sites like Project Gutenburg and the Internet Archive that provide material in various electronic formats.   With solutions from Overdrive becoming increasingly common it is also possible to borrow eBooks from many local libraries.  Kindle users in US are able to lend books to each other for two weeks, spawning services like Lendle to allow strangers to loan each other eBooks.

So much for going to the old bookstore for books.  What about magazines?  Many of the magazine publishers have jumped into the iPad publishing craze.  Some magazine specific iPad apps include Wired, Popular Mechanics (you would expect those for the techheads among us), but also Time, People, Oprah’s ‘O’ Magazine and Martha Stewart Living.  These are the mainstays of magazine racks everywhere.  Do these apps deliver a better experience than the magazine?  Maybe for some.  While they are enjoyable, I personally feel it makes reading the magazines feel more like being online.  I’d rather just enjoy the magazine as I always have so far. 

This reality has driven me and many others to Zinio.    Zinio works much like the eReader apps but for magazines.  Subscribe to magazines for around the same price as the paper copy and you can read it on Mac or PC, iPad or iPhone.  One of the biggest annoyances of subscribing to a magazine was seeing the new edition on the newstand for a week or so while you waited for it to arrive at your front door.  Now consumers get the magazine immediately when it is released.  Almost any mainstream (and some non-mainstream) magazine you can imagine is on the service.  No paper to mail or throw out, and even better, no subscription cards stuck in every 3 pages.  One of the best innovations of Zinio is being able to see all of the magazine subscription information and expiry dates in one place.   No more reminders every time you go to the mailbox that it’s your last notice to renew. 

So does all of this ease of purchase and ease of use mean the death of the bookstore?  Perhaps as we know it, yes, but most retailers have learned from the past.  Decades ago railroads missed the fact that they were in the transportation business, and not the train business – losing all of their business to trucks and other formats.  Booksellers and Music Stores realize that they are in the business of selling content – not books or CDs.  You can already see these retailers changing their product mix to meet the new realities. 

Those retailers that know their businesses work as curators.  They provide advice, ideas, and interfaces into experiences.  Today’s time starved consumer is overwhelmed by the massive selection of ways to spend their time, and media to consume.  Physical stores are not going to disappear, just as books will not go away completely.  Stores will continue to act as a hub of communal interest – providing reading, performances and discussion forums. 

Brick and mortar retailers will provide value beyond the book or the CD.  Product, Price, Place, and Promotion as elements of offers don’t change – but the delivery mechanism is, and that needs to be recognized.  Understanding of the consumer, and the ability to provide what that specific consumer wants, when they want it, is absolutely key.  It’s those tools that are really just starting to come into their own.

2011.05 | Novel Implementations in Retail

A few implementations in consumer facing situations with some unique properties observed in recent news:

  • Royal Bank debuted their first branch with the new branch concept using solutions like Microsoft Surface – for more details on the solution elements and some video check out my prior post.
  • Couche Tard is piloting a bluetooth mobile coupon solution tied to digital signage solutions for Red Bull.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t become mobile spam!
  • Starbucks Canada has placed interactive screens in the front window of one site in both Toronto and Vancouver as part of their Tazo Loose Leaf Tea campaign.  Visit them prior to February 26 to try them out.
  • London Luton Airport in the UK debuted ‘holographic’ hosts to assist airport travellers in navigating the security process.  They are rear-projections of real people onto full size human shaped screens.
  • Walgreens is now providing the capability for customers to renew their prescriptions via their mobile device by taking an image of the barcode on the bottle.
  • Kraft has a new kiosk that they showed off at NRF’s big show in New York last month that recommends recipes based on users’ appearance.   There’s something of the old carnival weight guesser about this one.  It makes you wonder if vegans look a mite greener, perhaps.  Next up, drive through kiosks that guess your order based on your car.

2011.03 | Why Starbucks’ Mobile Payment System Works

Last week Starbucks announced that the mobile payment scheme it has been piloting for some time will be available for all 6,800 Starbucks stores and Target locations across the US.  The solution is not yet in place in Canada.

For the uninitiated, the solution works as follows.  Consumers download the Starbucks Card Mobile App to their mobile phone; be it iPhone or BlackBerry. Customers with a Starbucks stored value card (effectively a gift card) that is registered on the Starbucks website, enter the card number into their phone when the obtain the app, and that card number is stored.  When consumers visit a store, they place their coffee order as usual, and indicate their desire to tender with their mobile.  Consumers start the Starbucks Card Mobile App on their mobile and navigate to the payment screen so that a 2d barcode representing the consumers’ Starbucks card is displayed.  The Starbucks associate, selects mobile as the tender in the POS, and prompts the consumer to use the customer facing imager (the same as those used in airports to read boarding passes).  The consumer places their mobile device under the imager, the 2d barcode is read, and the POS treats the tender like a gift card, following the usual payment verification procedure.  Once tender is complete, the customer obtains their coffee as usual.

The discussion on electronic wallet is an industry favourite, and this development will certainly encourage more discussion on the subject and provide some much need experience.  I’m fully behind this initiative, but at present, this solution is very much a Starbucks specific solution, and it is not easily translatable to other retailers.  While retailers can learn a great deal from the obvious careful thought that has gone into the solution, and we can look forward to others moving down this road as well.  To clarify for consumers (and non-technical retail executives) who ask why other retailers don’t have mobile payment schemes as yet, consider the following unique characteristics of the Starbucks situation that make a solution like this pay off.

Use of Stored Value Card – Very few retailers have a stored value card with the massive following and ongoing usage that Starbucks have.  Effectively consumers are giving Starbucks their funds in advance in exchange for some very small benefits (free drink on your birthday, free pump of flavouring in your drink).  Starbucks gets loyalty data on customers, and a nice balance of cash on hand.  More relevant to the mobile payment solution, the Starbucks mobile phone application allows consumers to make a payment onto their stored value card, and the application’s 2d barcode payment system is connected to that card.  Connecting the mobile payment system to the stored value card means that Starbucks can take the risk of a payment system internally.  Stored value are not subject to the same roadblocks, legislation, and scrutiny that building a mobile payment system that would access a credit card or a debit card would have.  Using the stored value card simplifies implementation and sidesteps many complexities of payment systems like EMV and PCI.

Cross Platform – While Starbucks are very keen on the iPhone, they have not limited themselves to an iPhone app, but also provided an app for the other key smart phone users via the Blackberry App.  Considering the corporate core of Blackberry users and how often meetings now take place in Starbucks stores, this is a wise move to maximize potential users.  Given the number of Android Users and the recent release and growing use of Windows 7 Phone platforms, it would not be surprising to see the Starbucks Card App ported to those platforms as well, ensuring maximum potential usage.

Valuable App – With over 400,000 apps on iTunes, retailers need to make their app unique and useful.  Ideally it pulls together the mobile and in store experience in some way.  Starbucks has managed both.  Any successful retailer’s mobile app needs something unique to it to encourage download, and having it on a consumers screen on a permanent basis.

Customer Demographic – Based on my experience, and what I have read in the media over the past few years, the average Starbucks consumer is more likely than average to be a tech-savvy iPhone or Blackberry user, and beyond that, the kind of user who would be comfortable with technology and placing a payment with their mobile.  It is important that any solution put in front of a consumer by a retailer fit their target market.  A savvy comfortable customer is more likely to use the app, and use it well, to speed transactions and drive convenience for them, and speed throughput for the retailer.

Infrastructure – Most Starbucks locations have 2 terminals.  In order to leverage 2d barcodes, special imagers are required, and this means hardware investment.  2 lanes means only a $300-$400 investment per store for imaging hardware.  Considering the potential value of transactions per store, this is a very low cost.   The ROI would be far less attractive for a lower margin retailer with dozens of lanes in a store to deploy, as it would be key to have the imagers in every lane to simplify the process for consumers.

Transaction Type – The slowest portion of any retail transaction, and the most difficult to trim time from, is the tendering process.  Given that in Starbucks transactions generally include a small basket size and the ordering time is relatively short, the value of an alternative payment is increased, as it is a greater proportion of the transaction.   This value is increased further by the incredible traffic at Starbucks sites.  Having many small transactions provides a boost to the ROI of the solution.

No Mobile Device Handling – In order for any sort of mobile payment solution to increase throughput and minimize operational complications, it is key to streamline the process of scanning the mobile device.  Starbucks has done this via a customer facing scanner with very simple signage.  This allows the consumer to place their phone in the scanning area with no need to pass the mobile device to a cashier.  This simplifies the process by providing a consistent process, not only increasing the scan speed, but also avoiding the potential of store staff dropping or otherwise damaging a customer’s mobile device.  Consumers are also more likely to use the mobile payment solution if they do not have to pass their mobile phone to a cashier, given how consumers increasingly consider the mobile device as a personal item.

As with all solutions implemented by consumer facing organizations, ROI is key.  Looking at the Starbucks solution, the costs of entry are probably not that high.  A mobile app is relatively inexpensive and standalone compared to other point of sale solution implementations.  Using the stored value card leverages electronic processes and databases already in place.  The crucial part is operationalizing the solution, and that can be put in place for hundreds or low thousands per site.  All in all, this is a relatively low cost solution with the potential for a high ROI in both funds, and in good will from consumers.  Other retailers looking to implement such a solution would do well to observe what Starbucks have done, but note well that this is not a one size fits all solution.  Any future implementers should be sure that the app suits their customer demographic, their transaction model, and has a way of dealing with the complexities of payment.  Other solutions will arise, and it will be fascinating to see what comes next.

2010.50 | Canadian Retail iPhone Apps

Things have come a long way in Canada over the past couple years when it comes to iPhone Apps from retailers.  A recent glance through the iTunes App Store revealed a number of iPhone Apps from retailers that include Canadian content.  All of these look good, are relatively slick, and reflect their retail brands very well.

Amazon – This mobile interface to the Amazon storefront doesn’t hold any wondrous surprises though it does incorporate the capability to scan and get prices for products.  Quite common now on many iPhone apps, the scanning works quite well and allows Amazon to extend their reach into the physical world by allowing comparison shopping and nice reminders next time a user is online

bebe – The most interesting part of this catalogue type app that is so common for fashion/apparel retilers is the button right at the front that says Just In/Final Sale.  This is effectively what most fashionista types are looking for anyway, so it provides users a quick route to what they want and a reason to install the app and keep it on their device in today’s world of thousands of apps.  Strangely no photos of Kim Kardashian.

Best Buy Canada – Piggybacking on the US app, the Best Buy Canada app also directs users quickly to sale items – what most people want to check out.  The checkout process is also quite simple and consistent with the iPhone interface.  Sharing interesting deals is simple with one button access to share the deal via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Black’s Photography – Nice little app that allows users to print photos directly from their iPhone.  Prints can be picked up in an hour by choosing the closest store.  A clever use of the same back end interface used on their kiosks and on home PCs to print photos for pickup, and a great example of a true multi-channel delivery mechanism.

Canadian Tire – The usual flyer, store locator app has a terrific feature.  Users can scan products for pricing like the Amazon app.  The scanning feature not only looks up the item, but indicates if it is in stock in your current store selected.  That is a very nice touch that leverages an interface built for their web page.  Being able to indicate stock is key here, tough you have to hope the data is accurate. 

Cineplex – A very slick app, and it has to be to compete with the likes of Flixster and other movie apps that are available on the iPhone.  The app manages to show off new releases in a simple and attractive manner highlighting all of the incredible content that entertainment can provide.  It is much simpler to buy tickets than Flixster, providing more confidence since tickets are provided directly by the theatre.  The ability to obtain rewards from the Cineplex Scene Loyalty card is a nice touch as well.

Future Shop – See Best Buy Canada.

H&M – The app makes it easy to quickly get to the users’ department of choice.  Wishlists are nice in these sorts of apps, as it allows die hard followers of the brand to recall their favourites when they visit the site.  The usual sharing capabilities provide an opportunity to share favourite fashions.

Holt Renfrew – In line with their high end clientele, this app has a very high end look and feel.  Special events for a users default store are highlighted, and HR always has events of note.   Lots of videos of fashion shows and the like – not surprising given the target market.

The Home Depot Canada – Essentially a mobile interface into the website.  Having the default store set and a very fast navigation through the flyer makes a lot of sense.  Lots of how to videos are a nice touch that are a logical item for someone in a store to use.  Would love to see a scanner or a wayfinder of some sort on this app.

Ikea Canada – Ikea’s app is effectively a mobile version of their catalogue, but it is done very very well.  It retains the look and feel of a physical paper catalog with very obvious little icons on items that the user can touch for more information and pricing.  Ikea also leverages their web assets by allowing users to see if the product is in stock at their closest store.  Wisely, they word things as “Most likely in stock”.  Fair enough, given the turnover in a store.

Joe Fresh – The Loblaw fashion brand has a stylish app with a simplicity that matches their fashion ethos. Primarily a catalogue type app to show off the latest fashions available, the app makes use of a nice interactive feature that encourages users to shake their iPhone when on a piece of attire they like, and the app puts together an outfit for them.  Pricing is provided as well as a locator for nearest store.

L’Occitane – Given the cost of their high quality products, having an informational and review app is a great idea, and this one seems to follow in the shoes of Sephora.

McDonald’s Canada – A relatively simple locator app, it works quickly and well, very simply indicating 24 hour stores, and store hours of those that aren’ts.  Some information on current promotions. 

Staples.ca – Standard app that allows online purchase from staples.ca, with online shopping, store finder and flyers.  Nicely organized for business users in particular.

myStarbucks – Missing the 2d payment component of its US based cousin, this is still a nice useful little app.  The store locator shows at a glance if the store is open or closed with a little green or red sign.  The drink builder is a nice way to explore product without holding up the line.  Lots of details on products are nice too, as the stores aren’t the best place to browse and think deeply about packaged coffee.  The calorie calculator is also very useful.

There are many more retail apps available now than were even available a few months ago.  Looking at these was very encouraging.  Some of them even have enough utility to justify leaving them on one’s iPhone.  Features like scanning and product availability are an amazing feature for users shopping for deals or a specific product.   For users who are tied very closely to the brand, these apps are a great way to stay on top of their favourite brands and new products, and share those things with others.

Expect increasing functionality and tie-ins between stores and electronic interfaces on mobile devices as the need for channels blurs and interfaces into retailers become integrated across channels so fluidly that they no longer noticable.

2009.47 | Paper Free Offers Please

Given the state of the global economy, special offers have become the new normal in retail.  Retailers are increasingly able to offer relevant offers on products and services desired by individual consumers.  Consumers who are loyal in these fickle times are rewarded with great deals. 

A technology decision such as requiring a barcoded coupon can have a heavy influence on the closure of a sale.  If a physical coupon is required and forgotten, there can be disasterous concequences.  The consumer may make a special trip to a location, spend sigificant time and energy to fill a basket, and then discover that the offer can not be redeemed. 

The end result is an abandoned basket, at best.  At worst, a customer will feel cheated by the retailer for forgetting a slip of paper.  This sort of small annoyance finds its way to places like Consumerist, or onto Twitter.  While these small annoyances were not worth addressing in the past – with no facility for consumers to vent such a small issue, these items could be ignored.  These new media provide instant response, and the potential for massive backlashes never before possible.

The opportunity to bring a consumer closer to a retailer – to make them more loyal – has been transformed into a pain point for the consumer.  And why the pain point?  Why is it necessary that we all kill trees and feed toner onto paper so that a barcode can be scanned?   The reasons are myriad, and include:

  • Limiting the offer – Perhaps retailers don’t want to provide the offer to the general population, but to a select audience.  Perhaps they are limiting the stock for a BOGO or free item.  While this is sometimes the case, many offers generally encourage you to send them to friends and family and use them over and over again. 
  • Sweethearting – Retailers want to reign in associates who give discounts to people on their whim – they could give it to everyone.  Using a barcode provides an audit trail with the paper coupon and the scanning requirement that will minimize the impact of a dishonest cashier providing discounts to unqualified individuals.
  • Tracking – Any campaign requires measurement, and some campaigns may want to track where the consumer found the offer, so they can understand their multi-channel mix.  There may be different barcodes for e-mail, flyers, newspaper ads, for whatever medium was used to validate the offer source.

There has to be some way to meet these very reasonable retailer needs in some manner without the handicap of a paper coupon – a 19th century innovation.  Unfortunately, barcodes can’t be scanned directly from most mobile devices, so this problem may take some time to be resolved with technology.  While there are some amazing opportunities using 2d barcodes or coupon apps to bridge this divide that are wholeheartedly encouraged, an interim measure that works for all consumers – not just mobile users – is key to avoid the bad press on line that can sink brand capital – particularly in the online world where bad press spreads so quickly.

As always the best route is to make the technology as invisible to the consumer as possible.  Why not make the unique barcode something that can be entered manually if the client reads it off their device to the cashier?  If there are concerns about limiting or sweethearting, why not have a code that the cashiers can enter manually if a customer mentions the offer, and a different code if it is scanned?  If the coupon is fundamentally required, offer a lesser discount without it. 

No matter the answer, it’s important to consider the desired end state, and not get caught in technology for it’s own sake – be it a barcode or a mobile device.  The solution has to be simple for the consumer.

2009.38 | Hold the Receipt | Donuts & Furniture

tale_of_the_tapeHold the Receipt – A September 1 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the growing trend of very long receipts, given the addition of contract terms, transaction barcodes, product details, loyalty information, coupons and more.  While much of the information on the receipt is useful for retailers and consumers alike – enabling interactions and conversations via offers, ensuring transaction clarity, and simplifying returns, it also means an incredible amount of waste.  

The ultimate objective will be to eliminate receipts entirely, removing paper, labour, waste, cost and complexity from the equation completely, but it’s easier said than done for many reasons

What can be done today?  Electronic coupons are one way to trim the paper use that many retailers and businesses are experimenting with.  Two sided thermal receipt printing is another great measure to address the issue, reducing costs and waste substantially while maintaining the benefits that the information on the receipt provides.

Donuts & Furniture – Consider two very different organizations and two different approaches to multichannel communications:

Dunkin Donuts has implemented the Dunkin Run program utilizing a twist on a social networking to allow an individual to invite friends to place their orders online for one lucky runner to pick up for the group.    Status of the pickup can be displayed on Facebook.  What a great idea to drive up sales, the dollar value of each purchase, and increase consumer loyalty.   It should also be an easy migration to a mobile footprint given the type of solution and interface provided.

Ikea is making moves down the path to multichannel communications as well.  The IKEA FAMILY loyalty program in use in Europe leverages registration kiosks in store.  In the US, Ikea is leveraging a mobile application for store finding and specials.  Expect IKEA to move those channels together.

2009.28 | More Mobile and Social Media

Retailers continue to delve deep into the murky waters of mobile apps. A Sears representative recently talked about their experiences and suggested success criteria for mobile retail with Sears2Go. Best Buy has also jumped in, with both a mobile website an iPhone app that will provide information on deals at your local Best Buy based on location – a sort of virtual local flyer.

Taking the social media trend to its logical next level, Whole Foods recently announced that individual stores will now have their own Twitter accounts. Expect departments and special interest by store to follow as those interested in certain subjects open themselves up for communication. As mentioned previously Sephora is encouraging its customers to post reviews of its products on its site.

Geeky as these items appear at first glance, the movement of mobile technologies and their applications to the maintream represent an amazing opportunity for retailers to go back to their roots.

Years ago, retailers operated in small communities, knew their customers on an individual basis and would market to them at that level. A sporting goods store owner knew that a new rod and reel would appeal to a very specific group of people in his community. That retailer could be in touch with those people he knew to let them know about the product. Much of that one to one relationship marketing was lost with the advent of big box stores and the migration of commerce from city centres and markets to suburban shopping malls.

With the ever widening number of mobile tools and the increasing number of tribes and communities out there, there is a real opportunity for retailers and consumer facing organizations of all kinds to go back to that sort of one on one relationship that can result in real benefit to both parties – consumers recieve products and services tailored to their specific needs, and retailers obtain an opportunity to gain real loyalty and value add for providing those tailored offers.

2009.23 | Trading Privacy

The basic agreement underlying basic consumer facing loyalty programs is that consumers are willing to trade a certain amount of their privacy in return for a discount on goods, services or other rewards.

Moving past that basic agreement, more sophisticated consumer facing organizations provide targeted offers or suggestions to consumers based on their selections or buying habits with the consumer’s agreement.

Now consider the internet generation and web 2.0, where few question the fact that every online and mobile service online is ‘free’. All comers are completely willing to provide their intimate details to populate the key fields of the system – a marketers dream. In this environment, the consumer’s data is the price of admission for a ‘free’ service.

last.fm

Last.fm keeps track of all their members’ music and listening habits in incredible detail. In return, it is possible to listen to new music online with links to purchase music from iTunes, discover concerts and share music online or even right on their mobile device (video is coming, too). The data captured is an irreplacable resource that can be sold to music artists and labels (or movie studios). Detailed listening data can be used to target consumers of specific musical taste, providing spot on targeting, reducing promotional costs, and driving revenues.

While this could still be considered a fair trade, assuming data is kept anonymized and used for legitimate and agreed upon commercial purposes, it does bring up troubling privacy issues. In 2009 most people are comfortable sharing their information online in social media experiments like Facebook, last.fm, Bookarmy, Evernote and countless other very useful applications. There are certainly other applications for these consumers’ data that have not been considered by the consumers as they provide it, and insidious or not, it signals change in our society and our consumer interactions.

Privacy issues or no, the first consumer facing organizations that discover a seamless way to allow customers to move as themselves from point of service to online to the web, remembering preferences of product and business method, purchases, while making useful recommendations and generally acting as our trusted advisor will certainly profit. There are many attempts being made today.

2009.10 | Multichannel Strategy | 3Rs

Multichannel Strategy – The term is overused, but I still haven’t seen anyone do this at the level it could be done as of yet. A few years ago it was okay to be bricks and mortar only, or web only, but the wisdom of staying completely put on one channel should be questioned today. No matter what the industry, customers want to do business on their terms, and they can afford to be increasingly selective as new options continue to arise in the channels through which they can do business (read: web / email / sms / twitter / online chat ). While customers will use the web, many people feel the need to hold a product in their hands before they buy it [Thanks, Paul!]. This necessitates some different thinking like free shipping for returns, leveraging brick and mortar sites and more.

Reduce-Reuse-Recycle – While there are obviously green undertones to my title, I’m actually referring to the process of leveraging technology and infrastructure in place to enable another solution. In tight buying cycles what better plan to assist retailers? They may spend less, but they are getting a value in return.

A good example of this is the ReadyPing table solution. Instead of buzzing coasters, the solution texts peoples’ mobile phones when their table is ready. Less hardware investment, less maintenance, and a service fulfilled at greater convenience to customers.

Another solution of this ilk is NCR’s Advanced Marketing Solution. Customers can leverage their current POS / Self-checkout / Gas Pump / Kiosk for customized messaging. Better yet, they can use customers’ email and mobile phones for personalized messages. An investment can be made in some back office infrastructure to leverage thousands of touchpoints already in place for the cost of one or two direct mail campaigns.

Forget cutting down endless trees and sending unwanted messages to strangers – build an infrastructure for a targeted and relevant relationship. This solution enables the multi-channel relationship discussed above and provides an interface to manage it. With an increasing number of channels and tangled offers, it is key to stay on top of what the clients see to keep the brand message consistent, and meet customer brand expectations of quality and service that brought them to a retailer in the first place.

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