Kroger’s New Tech Platform: Sensing Something Big in Store
The recent introduction of Retail Site Intelligence (RSI), a store technology platform based on the ZigBee wireless standard and collaboratively released by Kroger, EInfochips and Wincor-Nixdor, reinforces the coming explosion of sensing technologies in retail. I recently wrote a column about why retailers love the iBeacon, the Apple iOS 7 technological feature that uses low-frequency Bluetooth transmissions to help mobile devices track their position relative to stationary beacons. iBeacon technology is very important in its own right, but also a subset of the larger sensing revolution.
Sensing technologies allow devices to directly contact and communicate with each other, on an automatic and continual basis. This creates what is known as peer-to-peer (P2P) or machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity among what are often referred to as “smart” devices. While smartphones are by far the most well-known smart devices, almost any mechanical device, from appliances to cars to video cameras (more on that shortly), can be made “smart” and part of a P2P network.
Widespread connection of a large variety of devices to P2P networks, which has not happened yet but almost surely will in the next few years, will create what is known as the “Internet of things” or “Internet 3.0.” This means enough devices will be automatically sensing each other, exchanging data and taking action in response, to create a new iteration of the Internet that is much less reliant on direct human participation. The implications for retail, especially in the store, are significant. Let’s review a few in brief.
One Device, Many Functions
Kroger’s use of RSI hinges on the placement of ZigBee-enabled video cameras that in addition to performing loss prevention and customer analytics, also perform tasks such as sensing temperatures and managing queues. In the future, the cameras’ capabilities may be further extended to include functions such as sending targeted, location-specific offers to customer smartphones. Once linked into a P2P network, smart devices can perform a multitude of tasks, reducing the need for in-store hardware and customer interfaces.
The Last Mile Revealed
Despite the intensified retail industry focus on collecting, sorting and analyzing as much data as possible, the “last mile” a product travels from store to shelf remains surprisingly mysterious for many retailers. Smart shelves linked to smart cameras, POS terminals and other network-enabled store systems can transmit data on product movement which can quickly be collated with information on who is buying, which products, in what combination, order and timeframe, in real time. Sensing technologies hold the promise of penetrating the mysteries of the last mile and letting retailers optimize their store assortments, layouts and CRM efforts to a much higher degree.
Automatic for the People
On an opt-in basis, customers could take advantage of sensing technologies to automatically recognize what they browse, try on, and ultimately leave the store with. Shoppers could thus receive instant cross-sell and upsell suggestions, time- and location-sensitive personalized offers, and directions around the store, and then have a credit or debit account automatically charged when they leave.
Denimwear retailer Hointer already offers a shopping experience with many of these features thanks to its highly automated fitting room experience, but sensing technologies could truly turn shopping in a store into a fully automated process. The advantages in cost savings for the retailer and time savings for the customer are obvious, although at least for the foreseeable future retailers would also have to offer a more traditional, human-based shopping experience as well (as Hointer does).
Coupons.com rolls out card-linked offers
Coupons.com is rolling out a service that lets consumers use the Coupons.com website or Coupons.com mobile apps for iOS and Android to add digital coupons to their credit or debit cards from Visa, MasterCard or American Express for automatic redemption at checkout.
Offers are available for restaurants and specialty retailers such as Gap, Old Navy, The Body Shop, Tilly’s and Travelocity. The service incorporates technology from the company’s recent acquisition of Yub that links offers to payment cards.
Coupons.com operates a leading digital promotion platform that connects brands and retailers with consumers.
"We always look to innovate in ways that help consumers save money," said Bruce Sattley, SVP of product management at Coupons.com. "So we are really pleased to unveil our card linked service, which sets itself apart with ease of use, great offers and support for Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards. This combination delivers a best-in-class service for consumers and merchants wanting to take advantage of this emerging medium of digital coupons for saving on card purchases, primarily for in-store transactions, which still make up more than 90% of U.S. purchases."
To use Coupons.com’s card linked offers, shoppers register their Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards through Coupons.com website or mobile app. They can link credit or debit cards issued by any bank and the service is not restricted to a single bank or card type. Registration is required only once, not each time an offer is added. Consumers then browse offers and click to add to the payment card. Coupons.com offers are for cash discounts or gift cards, not points or rewards that users accrue. Users should check for new offers frequently since Coupons.com is regularly adding new offers from retailers and restaurants. Use the linked payment card in the store or on the merchant’s website or e-commerce-enabled mobile apps. A text message or email notification confirming the acceptance of the coupon is sent when the purchase meets the conditions of the offer. Cash discounts are credited directly to the consumer’s card account and settled within a few days. In the case of a gift card reward, redemption codes are sent within a few minutes.
The Coupons.com card linked offers platform, named CardLink iQ, gives specialty retailers and restaurants a new way to generate sales and increase brand loyalty among customers. Merchants can use card linked offers to drive traffic to their brick-and-mortar stores and to drive transaction volume on their e-commerce websites and mobile apps. For merchants wanting to focus on in-store sales, CardLink iQ gives them a way to use digital marketing to drive measurable offline purchases. And merchants do not need to alter point-of-sale systems or train staff with special procedures, so the process doesn’t slow down checkout lines.
CardLink iQ is a pay-for-performance model that lets merchants directly tie online marketing spend to purchases and provides detailed, real-time reporting to measure campaign performance at a granular level. Redemption limits can be set with continuous monitoring of consumer usage to enable effective management of promotions budgets. In addition to placing card linked offers on the Coupons.com network and mobile app, CardLink iQ can also power offers directly on merchants’ own sites and marketing channels, increasing consumer access with multiple touch points.
"CardLink iQ gives merchants the opportunity to connect with shoppers at scale, including the millions of users of Coupons.com, our mobile apps and our growing network of affiliate publishers," said Sattley. "With this service, Coupons.com uniquely offers retailers and restaurants a single resource for the broadest set of promotions, including site-to-store printable coupons, coupon codes for online shopping and now paperless card linked offers."
Brookstone files Chapter 11; seeks sale to Spencer’s
Merrimack, N.H. — Specialty retailer Brookstone Holdings Corp. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, with a plan to sell itself to Spencer Spirit Holdings, owner of the Spencer’s retail chain, for about $147 million. The purchase price comprises $120 million in cash, $7.5 million in new notes and about $18.5 million of assumed liabilities.
Under the agreement with Spencer Spirit, Brookstone would continue to operate its stores in malls and airports, along with its catalog, website and wholesale business, under the Brookstone brand.
“The retail industry continues to evolve, and staying ahead of the curve is critical,” stated Jim Speltz, Brookstone’s president and chief executive. “A partnership with Spencer Spirit provides us the canvas upon which to sketch our next chapter.”
However, Brookstone’s acquisition by Spencer Spirit may not be a sure thing. Blucoroa, the company that owns online retailer Monoprice, is reportedly preparing an all-cash bid for Brookstone, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Brookstone, which is privately held, lost $18 million in the 13 weeks through Sept. 28, up from a loss of $12 million in the period a year earlier. In its bankruptcy filing, Brookstone estimated that it has liabilities between $100 million and $500 million and assets in the same range.