TECHNOLOGY

Wireless provider rewards customers with free fuel

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

T-Mobile’s digital loyalty program just got more valuable.

The company’s “T-Mobile Tuesdays” app delivers free gifts and dis-counts to its users each week. Through its partnership with Excentus, the wireless provider now features a 25-cent-per-gallon “Fuel Rewards” discount code within its weekly rewards rotation.

Once T-Mobile Tuesdays users join Fuel Rewards and activate the discount code, they can redeem their reward at participating Shell stations across all 50 states. Rewards are redeemed as cents-off-per-gallon savings at the pump.

T-Mobile services more than 67 million customers in the United States.

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TECHNOLOGY

Reimagining Retail: Sur La Table

BY Adrien Nussenbaum

Recently, I was in my kitchen making Veal Provençal for my kids. As I reached for the can of peeled tomatoes, my worn out can opener broke in my hand. I turned to my Alexa device and told it to order a new can opener from Edlund. Two days later, the package awaited me when I got home.

As I was ordering the can opener, I thought of Sur la Table, a brand I really love. They’re a truly amazing company, with a great brand, wonderful stores, high quality standards and strong market recognition. Yet, when I needed a new can opener, I turned to Amazon.

This got me thinking about the future of Sur la Table’s and other retailers of commoditized goods. If, as a retail professional, I prefer to buy top-of-the-line kitchen utensils from Amazon, who’s left to shop at Sur la Table? How can they re-enchant their customers?

Repackage value

You’ve heard this before, but the fact is, product differentiation is hard to come by. Brands engage either in a race to the top or a race to the bottom; the product-quality middle ground is shrinking drastically. Brands now have to compete by either offering better convenience and customer service, or by becoming a destination, offering value-added experiences to their customers. While private label is great, it’s not enough.

At NRF Retail’s BIG Show 2017, Sir Richard Branson told retailers, “Don’t think of yourselves as retailers: invent new things.” And he’s right; there is no medal for showing up in retail. Manufacturers, retailers and brands that do not differentiate by providing ancillary value on top of their products are going the way of the dinosaurs.

That’s why I think Sur la Table should keep developing its cooking classes and experiential offerings. There are a whole bunch of ways I can buy a new chef’s knife, but by going to the Knife Skills 101 class, I’m much more inclined to buy it on the Sur la Table website or in store.

Likewise, the online cooking classes are a boon; my daughters get really excited following along, and it’s a treat for me to cook along with them. It now makes more sense to go to Surlatable.com than on Amazon for a pasta maker.

Showcase new product innovation

In the relatively near future, 3D printers, edible and non-edible, will be in every home. Currently Surlatable.com beams recipe videos, and it should prepare to beam instructions directly to a 3D food printer. Gaining an early lead strengthens the website’s standing as a destination for cooking buffs and the upsell potential is huge. Customers could customize 3D printed kitchenware by color, size, or handle shape.

Sooner rather than later, retailers will pivot to selling printing instructions for daily needs, rather than actually selling the things. Sur la Table could start with the silicone spatulas and other small utensils it sells, and as 3D printing takes flight, expand its offering.

Sur la Table is also very well placed to retail and maintain a network of 3D food printers. The value derived from owning the data produced by these devices, and retailing the ancillaries linked to them, is tremendous.

Build a community to capture the Network-effect

For a recent Christmas party, my wife and I hired a great local independent chef. Her skill at preparing and presenting delicious foods fits perfectly with Sur la Table’s universe and I can’t recommend her enough to all my friends. Yet there does not seem to be a space for her to appear and connect with other cooking fans, amateur or professional, on the Sur la Table website.

Although Sur la Table has taken steps to nurture its online community through its blog, it really hasn’t deviated from the traditional e-commerce model, and hasn’t tried to leverage and engage its community. By creating a platform on its website, skilled chefs, caterers and artisans could get in contact with customers and offer their services. In exchange for being referenced on the website, Sur la Table could charge vendors for each sale they make on the platform. Creating this space would not only generate profitable revenue for Sur la Table, but it would also strengthen ties with customers.

Exceed expectations by offering more

It turns out that the market for nutmeg grinders is underserved by Sur la Table. As of this writing, surlatable.com only offers two results for “nutmeg grinder.” Amazon returns nearly 300.

It doesn’t make sense for Sur la Table to hold such an inventory – even for the higher-grade ones, but neither does Amazon. In fact, Amazon stocks only high-turnover inventory. Amazon and other forward-thinking retailers serve their long tail of customers by enlisting the help of third-party vendors. These third-parties satisfy niche demands from Sur la Table’s customers, while absolving it of the need for costly inventory and fulfillment capacities.

By letting third parties own and sell inventory on their website, Sur la Table could answer a wider portion of customers’ needs, and hew closer to its promise of being the art and soul of cooking. Sur la Table would still own the customer relationship and retain customers’ loyalty, while sellers would gain exposure from Surlatable.com’s traffic.

These are only a few of the ways Sur La Table can efficiently transition from being “just” another retailer to embracing becoming an ecosystem, retaining ownership of their domain whilst exceeding customers’ expectations.

The recipe is not set in stone but like cuisine, retailers need to evolve, respectful of traditions but thinking forward to re-enchant our experience and palate.


Adrien Nussenbaum is co-founder and U.S. CEO of Mirakl, which helps multichannel retailers, pure-play e-commerce providers, and B2B organizations, build a new sales channel by deploying the marketplace model.

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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Retailers leave money on table due to lack of personalized service

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Disappointing shopping experiences are costing brick-and-mortar retailers serious money.

Stores left about $150 billion in potential revenue on the table in 2016 by failing to offer shoppers personalized in-store shopping experiences. Shoppers would increase their in-store spending by 4.7% — if they received better, more personalized service from retailers.

That’s according to TimeTrade’s “State of Retail 2017” survey. Previous TimeTrade surveys of retail executives consistently report that they believe their stores do provide customers with personalized shopping experiences. But consumers see things differently. About half of this year’s survey respondents (49%) said they “never” or only “sometimes” receive what they consider to be personalized service.

In fact, 70% of the time they shop they can “never” or only “sometimes” find a sales associate when they need assistance.

This disparity is financially damaging for retailers. For example, 71% of consumers said they sometimes or always abandon dressing rooms and leave stores if they can’t obtain help with sizes or color, among other factors. Conversely, 88% said that when helped by knowledgeable associates they are “somewhat likely” or “extremely likely” to make the purchase.

When asked what is most valuable when shopping in a retail store, respondents cited prompt service, personalized experiences and smart recommendations. To improve service, 64% said they would like to schedule in store appointment (from any device) with a retail associate at a time most convenient to them.

This should be a wake-up call for some retailers, especially as 82% of respondents said they still do half or more of their shopping in physical stores (excluding grocery stores). Moreover, 70% said they planned to do the same in 2017, with 14% saying they would increase the amount of shopping they do in-store. Even when an item is available online — as well as in a nearby store — 75% of respondents said they preferred to buy from the physical store, the study said.

“Just imagine the positive financial impact on brick-and-mortar retailers if revenue jumped by 5%,” said Gary Ambrosino, CEO of TimeTrade. “Right now, retailers’ revenue projections and stock prices are under pressure as the landscape continues to change. A renewed focus on providing shoppers with a better, more personal in-store experience would go a long way toward stemming the tide of defection to competitors and online sellers.”

Personalization is especially important among the millennial generation, especially as they enter their earning and spending prime. Almost half of them (47%) do 75% of their shopping in stores vs. online, and 29% always start shopping online and go in-store to complete the purchase.

Those helped by a knowledgeable associate are extremely likely to make purchases (58%), and nearly 70% said they would pay more for products or services they had a highly personalized in-store experience. This could include personal assistants/shoppers (45%), beacon technologies (31%), and wait-time displays or text/email updates when their turn is near (29%), the study said.

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