The advance of mobile technology – assisted, of course, by the ubiquitous iPhone App – has opened up a whole new world of solutions going way beyond mere SMS promotions to shoppers’ cell phones. And U.S. grocers are embracing Them.
“As smart phones continued to evolve and grow in popularity in 2009, the focus with retailers so far has largely been on digital coupons, with some success,” says Jeff Weidauer, VP of marketing at Vestcom International, a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of specialised marketing solutions for retailers. “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?”
Delivering information is among the most common ways in which grocers are leveraging mobile devices. For example, in December 2009, ShopRite and MyWebGrocer rolled out a free Apple iPhone and iPod Touch application that functions as a portable weekly circular delivering weekly grocery specials to users. Called ShopRite Weekly Specials, the app enables a consumer to browse hundreds of items to see what’s on sale in real time at her regular ShopRite store. Once a shopper chooses an item, it’s added to her shopping list, which is organised by category with pictures, descriptions and real-time prices. The app syncs and downloads store specials directly to an iPhone or iPod Touch, and can even sync with customers’ shopping lists at ShopRite.com.
“This new app not only helps our customers save money, but, more important, it [also] makes their lives a little bit easier,” says Cheryl Williams, SVP of ShopRite, the banner under which members of Keasbey, N.J.-based cooperative Wakefern Food Corp. operate their stores.
“We want to do everything we can to enhance the customer experience at ShopRite, and the iPhone app is a mobile extension of those efforts.” Natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market has launched a Web site, m.wholefoodsmarket.com, optimised for Web-enabled mobile devices, to provide its customers with the features of its Web site while on the go.
Users can access the Austin, Texas-based grocer’s selection of over 2,000 recipes, as well as store information such as hours, driving directions, specials, and a calendar of events for local stores.
Shoppers are Doing it for Themselves
Kroger, however, has added a unique twist to the mobile services it offers by selling mobile devices, as well as leveraging them to engage its customers. The Cincinnati-based grocer’s shoppers can now buy cell phones featuring “do-it-yourself” activation that reduces customer care and supply chain costs for the company. The grocer is using the Telespree solution from San Francisco-based iwireless – a national wireless solution provider on the nationwide Sprint PCS network – for the offering, which is also integrated into Kroger’s loyalty card program.
The new service enrollment application allows subscribers to input a ZIP code for a desired service area, create a service passcode, select a calling plan, sign up for monthly credit card billing, activate the device and receive a new phone number on the mobile phone – all without calling customer care, using an interactive voice response system or needing dedicated retail assistance.
As part of the enrollment process, subscribers are offered the ability to register for Kroger’s loyalty program, which enables them to earn free minutes on their wireless phones.
When they spend $100 in qualifying purchases at a Kroger store, they’ll receive 20 free minutes of airtime on their i-wireless phones. To takeadvantage of the promotion postactivation, subscribers can go into a dynamic self-care menu on their phones to enroll in the program. And now, retailers can even use iPhones as credit card payment terminals, enabling associates to extend the point-of-sale system to locations around or even outside the store, such as for a parking lot sale.
No Tech for Tech’s Sake San Jose, Calif.-based VeriFone Holdings, Inc. recently launched PAYware Mobile (www.paywaremobile. com), a complete payment solution for the Apple iPhone. The solution consists of an iPhone App integrated to a PAYware Mobile card reader that uses a secure magnetic stripe read-head and firmware certified to the Federal Information Processing Standard FIPS 140-2.
Card details are immediately encrypted during the card-swipe process. VeriFone’s Veri-Shield Protect end-to-end encryption is included as a standard feature. Since it accommodates card swipes, users avoid highcost “card-not-present” fees.
Chicago-based Transparent Financial Services (TransFS) has also introduced an iPhone-based credit cardprocessing solution (www.transfs.com/ iphone). Called the TransFS Card Terminal, the iPhone app provides businesses with mobile credit card acceptance in addition to complete freedom of choice in credit card processor selection, according to the vendor.
However, as with other technology solutions, grocers should make sure they’re right for their business, and not just tech for tech’s sake. “The continued popularity of the iPhone started an industry focused on apps that will do more things than we ever thought possible from a mobile device,” says Vestcom’s Weidauer. “Retailers need to be careful about creating apps just to be in the game. Creating an app that gets you on the bandwagon without really understanding how, or if, it’s solving a problem for shoppers is an exercise in futility at best, and can undermine brand equity at worst.”
And currently on the horizon is 4G broadband – said to be 10 times faster than 3G broadband devices – which means the ability to deliver more data, faster. Combine this with extremely portable yet powerful netbooks, and retailers truly will be able to take their offices anywhere they go.