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Pay at the Table

BY Dan Berthiaume

Casual dining chain Applebee’s is looking to redefine and enhance its guest experience by placing tablets tableside. The company plans to deploy 100,000 devices — E la Carte Presto tablets, powered by Intel — chainwide by the end of 2014. It is installing the tablets on every table and in multiple bar positions at its more than 1,8000 U.S. restaurants.

“It puts control of the dining experience in the right hands,” said Dan Smith, communications manager at Applebee’s franchisor DineEquity. “The first thing customers notice is the ability to pay with a credit card when they’re done dining.”

However, in addition to allowing customers to automatically order appetizers, drinks and desserts, and pay the check, the Presto tablets also let them take a deeper look at menu items and obtain product information from the Applebee’s website. Customers can also play games on the tablets for a daily fee of $1.

“The vision is to create an ongoing two-way dialog with every customer and offer a personalized experience for customer visits in real time,” Smith said.

To that end, Applebee’s is sending customer recommendations and showing images based both on their past behavioral and purchase history and time of visit. The company is also testing the tablets as a means of delivering its loyalty program, and is “future-proofing” the tablets by including features such as Bluetooth, NFC chips and Web cameras.

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Appetite for Disruption

BY Dan Berthiaume

Technology-enabled customer disruption is not strictly the province of retailers. Montreal’s public transportation authority, Société de transport de Montréal (STM), is in the midst of a successful pilot of a loyalty program that uses advanced geolocation and real-time mobile messaging to disrupt the public transportation customer experience. And in another sign of how traditional silos in the customer experience are falling, retailers are playing an active role.

In May 2013, STM launched a pilot of an opt-in mobile loyalty program aimed at the 2.5 million holders of its “OPUS” smart cards that store fare purchases and personal passenger information.

“The key objective is to generate additional fare and non-fare revenue by focusing on customer retention and improving the customer experience,” explained Pierre Bourbonnière, director of marketing, STM. “We want to give customers incentives to take public transit more often.”

Instantly Gratifying Consumers

To that end, STM has partnered with 1,340 organizations, including 340 retailers such as IGA and Uniprix, as well as bars, restaurants, museums and theaters, to offer special discounts and incentives for using public transportation. Participating customers download a mobile iOS app and enter their OPUS number, which provides the basic information used to generate mobile offers. This avoids the use of loyalty cards or reward points. Customer data is split between two different databases and only combined at the moment a personalized offer is generated, thus satisfying Quebec’s strict consumer privacy laws.

“What kids want today is instant gratification, and we give it to them,” Bourbonnière said.

Getting Granular With Geolocation

Using the SAP Precision Retail solution, STM performs granular segmentation of customer data, and then combines behavioral information with real-time geolocation data to send real-time, individually targeted offers that are contextually relevant.

“If you’re walking past a coffee shop and get a special offer for coffee, you’ll probably take it,” Bourbonnière said. “Or riders on their way home from work thinking about what they’ll make for dinner that night will get a discount at a local supermarket.”

Results to date indicate that by leveraging leading-edge mobile, behavioral analysis, geolocation, and real-time communication technologies, STM has achieved disruptive results both for itself and its retail partners through this pilot.

So Far, So (Very) Good

“We were the No. 1 app in the Canadian App Store the first few weeks of the pilot,” Bourbonnière recounted. “We have sent 3.7 million offers in batches of 10, and the top 10 had a 67% click-through rate and a 64% validation rate. One-in-three offers had a 10% click-through rate, compared with the typical 1% to 2% click-through rate for that type of offer.”

Other results include 24% of pilot participants increasing their usage of public transportation, 57% discovering new destinations and 47% taking a friend along for at least one discounted offer. Results for retailers have been profitable enough that 10 large and 100 small retailers have agreed to start paying for inclusion in the app as STM expands the pilot into a rollout to 250,000 riders.

“We hope to have 250,000 members in the next 18 months and generate $4 million in fare revenue and $6 million in non-fare revenue [mostly from participating retailers] in the next three years,” Bourbonnière said. “We also plan to launch an Android app. We’re putting the right offer in the right time and place.”

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The Personal Touch

BY Dan Berthiaume

For upscale retailers, providing an intimate and responsive customer experience is even more critical than it is for more mainstream chains. In The Pink, a Falmouth, Mass.-based, seven-unit affiliate of specialty retailer Lilly Pulitzer, is disrupting both how customer service is delivered in its stores and how IT vendors deliver technology to retailers.

In The Pink is in the interesting position of essentially serving as its own retail platform vendor. Gordon Russell, founder of In The Pink, is also co-founder of Springboard Retail, provider of retail software that helps In The Pink perform activities, such as checkout, reporting, inventory management, order placement, CRM and purchasing/receiving in a unified way that transforms the customer shopping environment.

Grow With What You Know

“Proprietary applications helped In The Pink grow between 1999 and 2008,” Russell said during an in-person interview at a Boston-area coffee shop. “In 2008, we realized that we couldn’t keep building proprietary applications.”

So in 2009, Russell co-founded Springboard Retail, using learnings from nine years of developing proprietary applications at In The Pink and a cloud-based Javascript infrastructure. In August 2011, In The Pink became Springboard Retail’s first client with an alpha rollout of an extensive platform.

“We wanted a modern retail platform with applications on top,” Russell said. “We see huge benefits from providing information across internal and external channels.”

The Right Data, Right Away

For example, the Springboard Retail platform provides In The Pink with a Web-based POS system that store associates can use on any device, including Android-based mobile phones and iPads. The system also allows employees to perform purchasing and receiving, inventory control and discounting from mobile devices. This makes activities such as ordering out-of-stock items much more responsive to customer demand.

Even more relevant to providing a disruptive customer experience is a first-generation customer dashboard accessible to store associates via mobile device. For customers who identify themselves or whom associates recognize, the dashboard enables a significant level of real-time personalization.

“Sales associates get vital information so they can make more relevant recommendations,” Russell said. “They get a comparison of the customer to all customers on average during the past 12 months. They can look at data like average transaction margin, units per transaction, total sales and rate of product return. Associates can also see the customer’s preferences by vendor, category and style, and can make adjustments as needed.”

The Springboard platform provides APIs to allow the development of custom applications, and In The Pink has taken advantage. One notable custom app, which sits in the store and is accessible via mobile device, allows associates to view the lowest-selling Lilly Pulitzer styles in real time. This enables associates to take steps to boost sales of these items, which helps even out overall sales and contributes to higher margins.

Disruption Pays

In The Pink has had impressive financial results from its disruption efforts so far. Between August 2011 and August 2012, the retailer grew same-store sales 15.3%. In the second 12 months of launch, between August 2012 and August 2013, In The Pink increased same-store sales another 19% on top of the initial increase. And the chain has more plans for extending the reach of real-time data.

“The second generation of the application will be customer-facing,” Russell said. “We also want to put data in the hands of other constituents. What if product vendors could get access to performance data with a permission-based login?”

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