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Push vs Pull: How Mobile Changed Retail Promotion Strategies


The push vs. pull debate has now crossed into mobile marketing and, similar to discussions regarding email marketing and other online initiatives, each approach offers pros and cons. And, as with most debates, a healthy balance is usually the best bet.

Some liken push marketing to spam as consumers often experience unexpected or too many promotional offers via smartphone either through a browser or native app. But when you are in the market for whatever message or offer is pushed, the promotion becomes relevant and pulls you in.

On the other hand, pull promotions don’t require consumers to register for anything and enable them to explore various shopping categories — opening up their range of store options to consider. However, consumer motivation can be a challenge for pull promotions as the shopper has to actively pursue the offer or promotion. Either way, relevancy is the key to both push and pull promotions, and that premise doesn’t change with mobile. In fact, mobile has increased the impact of both approaches.

Per a recent Deloitte research study, smartphone devices influence nearly $600 billion of all in-store sales, up from $159 billion in 2012.

Additionally, the study showed that 84% of consumers used their mobile devices before or during their most recent trip to a store, demonstrating mobile’s influence on consumer shopping activity. And in our own StepsAway user data, for shoppers in a mall who click on details of a retailer offer to learn more about the product offering, we’re seeing more than 50% of consumers taking another action to reveal the discount code to proceed with a transaction. With these statistics in mind, retail marketers must take their push and pull strategies to the next level or risk leaving billions on the table. Which strategies are most effective, though?

Coupling Push and Pull

Beacons, one of the most ‘talked-about’ mobile engagement tools for brick-and-mortar retailers, are a ‘push promotion’. While most don’t think of beacon messages as spam, location and proximity are the primary trigger that constitutes relevancy. Case in point, I may be meeting a friend in front of Foot Locker because it is a convenient, central location at a mall, not because I am interested in or in the market for running shoes. When a beacon pushes an offer based on location and presumed relevancy, many of the impressions will be wasted. Additionally, consumers must download a native app to receive beacon-driven messages.

However, there is a relevancy play when combined with mobile pull promotions like a deals site, a Wi-Fi based mall app or even a brand’s website as shoppers organically search for what they need when it is relevant. While many retailers today have created mobile applications that optimize on-device commerce over in-store experience, recent research shows that this is a fundamental miss in terms of priorities, as customers do want to use digital in-store. In fact, today’s shoppers are often relying more on their digital devices for many in-store shopping activities than the store associate.

For example, I’m in the market for outdoor dinnerware and search a browser-based shopping app and see there is a sale on outdoor dinnerware at a specialty store that targets cooking and entertainment consumers. The pull promotion gets me into the store based on my current shopping need. While I’m debating red or orange patio plates in the store, I receive a beacon ping for a discount on juicers. I didn’t go in for a juicer, but I have been considering one so location relevancy gets the win.

Personalization Takes the Win

Taking this a step further, many retailers are showing interest in personalizing their push and pull engagement strategies. They’ve noticed that consumers are opting into loyalty programs that reward them in exchange for gathering information on their purchase patterns, previous transactions, product reviews, social media information and other demographic data.

Retailers that can incorporate this aggregate data into their mobile strategies are sitting on a goldmine. For example, by tailoring the offers that show up on a shopping or brand-specific mobile app and issuing push promotions based on previous mobile searches, these hybrid strategies can be used to execute precisely targeted promotions and drive more revenues.

Push and Pull Influence Omnichannel Strategies

Both push and pull strategies can be too one dimensional on their own but can strengthen retailers’ omnichannel strategies by striking a balance that effectively engages consumers throughout their path to purchase. A recent study by L2’s Intelligence Report: Personalization, found that shoppers who interact with a store digitally and physically during a single transaction are likely to spend two to four times as much money as those who interact with just one of the brands’ channels.

Starbucks sets the bar high and does an excellent job of employing push and pull strategies as part of its omnichannel marketing initiatives. The company regularly sends emails with offers to their most loyal customers and encourages consumers to use their mobile devices via incentives and promotions once they are onsite at a location. Taking it a step further, Starbucks app users are incentivized with additional benefits, tying the full engagement strategy together.

Overall, the debate of push vs. pull has now evolved into how and when to use each piece as part of a larger mobile marketing strategy. Retail brands looking to capture market share must look beyond branded apps and beacon-only strategies to bridge the gap between push and pull with targeted mobile initiatives, thereby increasing their influence on consumers’ purchase decisions at right the time, with the right offers.

Allan Haims is president and CEO of StepsAway, an in-mall mobile retail solution offering shoppers smartphone access to hyperlocal in-store deals. Haims has 25plus years of experience in the retail technology industry including executive positions for Wet Seal, Disney Stores and Victoria’s Secret, among others.

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