Mobile coupons: physical vs. cloud

Apr 01, 2011 9:30 PM  By

Mobile couponing gives you an opportunity to meet customers where they are present in a channel, interact with them on a personal level and, ultimately, earn their loyalty. But merchants looking to incorporate mobile coupons into their business models must understand the various levels of mobile couponing to be sure they are investing in a model that yields the greatest return on investment — now and in the future.

First, do retailers need to adopt a mobile strategy? If you aim to survive in the current consumer-driven marketplace, you should probably go mobile.

Consumers are less loyal, more demanding and constantly on the go. They are also increasingly accessible via mobile devices, offering retailers a favorable channel for consistent engagement.

Before you select a mobile strategy, however, you must evaluate your desired mobile marketing goals and the customers you are trying to reach. Key to this strategy: considering the benefits and limitations of “the physical” and “the cloud” levels of mobile couponing before moving forward with implementation.

Let’s get physical

The “physical” level of mobile couponing is a simple, effective approach for engaging customers with highly personalized messaging by sending a barcoded coupon. According to 2010 NCR research, mobile phone use is growing, with 86% of respondents reporting that they currently use a mobile phone.

This demonstrates the importance of the mobile channel, and evidence supports the fact that customers want to receive information via mobile channels. In fact, 44% would like to download coupons to redeem when checking out through a barcode scanner.

Despite the benefits of physical mobile couponing, there are significant limitations to this device-centric level of mobile couponing. First, there are technical hurdles, including the reality that not all devices read 2D barcodes, impeding the ability of the consumer to redeem the discount at checkout.

Second, if a retailer’s application requires the consumer to use a particular mobile device, there can be a compatibility issue. Both of these issues are at odds with a customer-centric retail marketplace in which customers demand to be reached where, when and how they prefer at any given time.

What’s more, while it is true that customers are frequently in transit and often carry their mobile phones, at times a customer may be without his or her device and therefore would not have access to the coupon. Whether consumers are on their home computers, checking email via smartphone or looking to redeem a discount in-store, retailers must make the information accessible where consumers choose.

Looking to the cloud

Keeping information in, and executing mobile couponing communications from “the cloud” can help break through these limitations and broaden interaction options through multiple channels. Cloud-based computing makes information readily accessible to the mobile customer independently of one specific device.

Converged retailing technologies and solutions allow retailers to deliver timely, personalized transactions, information and promotions seamlessly across all channels.

Systems that push information out to all types of web-enabled mobile and stationary devices are being developed using downloadable applications and web links alongside existing email technologies for barcode delivery to mobile phones. Keeping information in the cloud supports an infrastructure that enables a converged communications strategy. And it adds the convenience of tapping into information when, where and how customers want.

Furthermore, it lays the foundation for a more flexible mobile platform that adapts to individual preferences in real-time, and larger retailing trends and technological innovations. No matter what technology/device emerges next, maintaining information in the cloud provides a flexible, economical infrastructure.

The bottom line is that retailers must meet customers’ preferences in interaction, and market directly to each individual — however the individual prefers. Mobile communication is essential for survival in this environment, whether via a physical device or by keeping information in the cloud.

Retailers need to make it a priority to know their audiences and adopt the mobile marketing model that best suits their goals now and into the future.

Rick Chavie is vice president, marketing retail and hospitality solutions, for global technology company NCR Corp.