CashStar Retailer Roundtable puts m-commerce and digital gift cards in spotlight

While the mobile phone serves as a lens to a personalized store experience, moving forward, wearable technologies like Google Glass will take in-store personalization to the next level, Steve Arthur, head of retail industry for Google, told attendees at  the Retailer Roundtable event, sponsored by digital gifting platform provider CashStar. Arthur cautioned that retailers must realize they must deliver consumers the experience they need, rather than what they want, and be prepared for a post-PC world. 

“Associates leave more technology in their locker than they bring on the store floor with them every day,” said Arthur. “The install base of mobile and tablet devices is now greater than that of desktops and laptops. The PC era is over. The mobile phone is an intrinsic part of us. If we’re awake, we’re online. Especially if we’re under 30.”

According to Arthur, customers want a mobile-enabled experience that is fast, simple, tailored and engaging. He gave the example of a mobile app from the Midwestern mass merchandise chain Meijer that rearranges a customer’s shopping list based on their location in the store and gives them one space to store and manage all retail and manufacturer coupons.

However, repeating a famous quote from Henry Ford that “If I had asked people what they had wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Arthur urged retailers to look beyond customer wants and serve their underlying needs. This includes curation of online and mobile product assortments, as although customers always say they want more products to choose from, nobody has time to sort through thousands of online options.

“What a customer really wants is for the retailer to surface the one right item when they walk in the store, before they ask,” said Arthur.

Another speaker at the event, Mark Bonchek, founder of digital strategy firm Orbit, discussed what he sees as the gradual and inevitable evolution of e-gift cards and mobile wallets into a broader, intelligence-enable concept of “branded currency.” Under this model, retailers will essentially act as bankers of branded currency that gives consumers maximum control of their purchasing power, aided with artificial intelligence.

“You can influence purchase decisions by giving increased spending power over products and brands,” said Bonchek. 

According to Bonchek, by giving consumers access to digital gift cards, points and coupons in one place, retailers increase convenience and convertibility of these forms of electronic payment. Retailers can further build on the power of what he said is currently known as a “mobile wallet” but will evolve into something greater by building in intelligence that will let consumers pull in personalized offers, rather than simply have personalized offers pushed to them.

“This type of targeting requires ‘Little Data,’” said Bonchek. “For example, there are mobile apps that let consumers track their health and fitness data which is highly personal. It lets them use what they know about themselves more efficiently."

Bonchek said retailers should also provide consumers with branded “social currency,” which he likened to a virtual version of the pizza and beer you give to friends who help you with a task like moving. 

“It builds a relationship,” he said. “For example, Walgreens Balance lets you convert social currency to financial currency by offering rewards like 20 points per mile you walk a day and 20 points for a daily weigh-in. You create useful services with intrinsic value that build trust and help consumers develop favorite brands.”

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