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Are you losing sleep over mobile coupons?

Mobile coupons are really hot. Every retailer is thinking about it – and perhaps they are losing some sleep over it too.

Many questions are still popping up and good answers are hard to come by. But with average redemption rates of mobile coupons at 5 percent to 10 percent, it is no wonder that it is top of mind.

The mobile world would be much easier to conquer if everyone had a phone that could display an accurate bar code, and if all retailers had a point of sale (POS) system that could handle the transaction.

But many top retailers today do not have the capability at the cash register – to handle the transaction, much less match it to a customer record. And they may not want to rely on the people manning the registers to enter a long complex code to capture a bar code numeric sequence properly.

Bar codes bar none
Many companies have come out with work-arounds, using technology such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification – which uses radio waves to transmit data).

The RFID method relies on users attaching a label or other item to their phone which allows a scanning device at the cash register to read the label and get the data. 

The concept is that consumers use their phone to bring the offer, but the RFID handles the redemption and associated transaction.

One problem with this method is that people may not want to attach a brand label to their phone, or add yet another item to their jingling bunch of car keys. And it does require the retailer to invest in a way to read the RFID signal.

Some retailers are offering mobile coupons that are generic – used by anyone – and can be incorporated in POS systems by using the manual coupon code field, if they have one. 

This works much better in online stores – we know who the customer is by their shopping cart checkout, and can associate an offer code that signals that it came from a mobile campaign. 

It is a little more difficult in the retail locations that may have the ability to enter the code, but what happens when the customer pays cash? We may still not know who the customer is and may not be able to track the sale.

Some major retailers do have the ability to scan mobile bar codes and have cashiers enter the code when they need to.

Indeed, some retailers have added a “hot key” that brings up a mobile bar code entry screen on the cash register – allowing for a scan when possible, or to prompt the cashier to enter the manual code. And if customers are identified through their transaction, they can close the loop.

Some of you may be thinking, well, so what! I need to show the channel works and if I can make a mobile offer and track it the best I can, at least I can show that the channel is worth further investment and then get more funding from management. 

Fast clip
One thing is certain: fast-moving technology keeps this channel in a constant state of evolution.

We have to keep in mind that a significant number – and still majority – of our customers are more than likely using phones that are not capable of the new, cool things coming.

We should not rely on new technology, but should think about creative solutions at the infrastructure level that can enable mobile marketing. And then keep an eye toward the future and make sure we are building with that in mind.

So close your eyes and take a short nap. The industry will catch up, and in the meantime, if you do not have a POS system that can handle it, you will have to make the decision to invest in something that can handle our new world, or test the mobile channel by increasing customer adoption within your brand and in your retail locations – just more generically than you would like for now.

Keep in mind that, after all, you are driving sales and providing another cool channel to your customers.

Jeannette Kocsis is senior vice president of digital marketing at direct marketing services firm Harte-Hanks Inc., Yardley, PA. Reach her at [email protected].