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Retailers Win With Mobile Payments


By Matthew Talbot, [email protected]

Two recent announcements prove that retailers are very much in the mobile-payments game. First, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart and Target were among two dozen retailers collaborating on a mobile commerce project. Then, Starbucks shared the impressive numbers from its Starbucks Mobile app, which launched in the United States in January 2011, and the United Kingdom and Canada a year later. 42 million: that’s how many transactions the company has processed in the 15 months since it launched, and 16 million of those happened between December and April.

Retailers aren’t waiting for NFC, or for banks or Google Wallet—or permission. They’re getting ahead and launching their own systems. And why not? They’re seizing the opportunity to take control of the customer relationship, which they already own, in a new channel.

Enhance what you already do

Mobile opens up a new world of possibilities to offer new services and create direct relationships with customers. The opportunity is huge, and to make the most of it, you must tie it in to what you already do.

The Starbucks Mobile app is a great example of what it takes to succeed with mobile commerce and mobile CRM. It’s not fancy or complicated. It’s simply a digital version of the coffee giant’s existing loyalty card, already popular with millions of customers. Load funds to the mobile app starting with a prepaid card and then a credit card, bring your phone to any Starbucks in the United States, United Kingdom or Canada (it works across countries), and scan the barcode at the register after selecting your coffee. Simple, and here’s the key: more convenient and rewarding than cash or credit. (Though the loyalty aspect, which only applies to U.S. customers, requires a hefty 45 purchases to receive your first free drink, it only takes 15 to earn them thereafter.)

From payments to CRM

Once a company has a successful mobile payment method, it’s a short road to mobile loyalty and engagement programs. Not only do retailers have a direct marketing channel for sending offers, coupons, alerts and reminders, they also receive detailed information about each customers’ purchasing behavior with every transaction.

Put this information to use, and suddenly the company knows who redeems coupons, when, what they bought and how much they spent, and can incorporate all of that into future marketing and loyalty programs.

Global corporations, Internet shopping and the popularity of self-service have reduced the number of face-to-face interactions retailers have with customers. Mobile, which combines of all three factors, ironically can help re-establish that direct, personal relationship. It’s possible to bring back a mom-and-pop level of familiarity without retuning to a mom-and-pop business model.

Getting started with mobile

With mobile, as with any new technology, it’s often wise to start small and grow incrementally, letting the success of one service pave the way for the next. That’s why it’s important to find a technology partner that offers a full range of services, so you can build your own mobile channel in the most efficient way for your particular business.

No matter where you begin, there are best practices that always apply. Sally Burley, co-founder of The 3rd Degree, a market research and marketing solutions provider, highlights tips to ensure a mobile commerce deployment is successful in her recent article from the 2012 Mobile Commerce Guide, entitled, “Best Practices For Mobile Customer Engagement.”

Know your customer. It’s imperative to understand who your customers are, what kinds of devices they’re using, and what they will want to use mobile for before you begin. Sometimes a smartphone app, such as Starbucks Mobile, is the best way to reach them, but keep in mind that SMS and mobile Web are more widely used across all regions and socio-economic groups.

Make a great first impression. Give customers a good experience when they first engage. Provide a sign-up bonus, discount or offer. Respond quickly. Welcome them to the fold.

This is also the perfect time to gather the basic information that will make all future interactions more meaningful, such as age, location, preferences, etc., and to get their permission to send alerts, notifications and other push communications via mobile.

Keep it simple. Don’t make it hard to engage. Leverage existing programs and existing behavior patterns in your mobile efforts. Again, Starbucks Mobile is a virtual version of an established loyalty program. People already get it.

Best case: your mobile program makes it easier for customers to do what they already do, and also makes it easy and rewarding for them to engage more. Worst case: at the very least, your mobile program shouldn’t make it any harder to do what they already do.

Use positive reinforcement. Reward customers when they buy your product, promote on social media, or recommend to friends. Offer information, discounts or gifts. It’s so easy to do with mobile.

Apply the golden rule. The mobile channel gives you instant, anytime, anywhere access to customers, so engage with caution. Treat your customers’ mobile devices as you want retailers to treat yours.

Listen. Ask for feedback, gather transaction data, and then put it to use to deliver even better products and services.

Mobile goes both ways

The two-way communication that’s possible with mobile means retailers and brands can truly know their customers, and deliver the right message at the right time to the right person. Starbucks might send an offer to the effect of, “Haven’t seen you in a while, Mr. Talbot. Come back in for 15% off this month’s signature drink.”

Innovative retailers already understand that making the most of mobile means tying it into what they already do best, and using it to enhancing every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Matthew Talbot is SVP mobile commerce, Sybase 365, a subsidiary of Sybase (a SAP company), a leader in enabling mobile information services for mobile operators, financial institutions and enterprises. He can be reached at [email protected].

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