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Staples tests extending mobile offers into SMS for real-time relevancy

Staples is testing an SMS program to see how customers respond when they receive offers on their phones as part of a broader strategy to cater to mobile shoppers both in-store and online.

The text messaging test is being promoted via signage is all stores and is the office supplies retailer’s first attempt at leveraging SMS to activate shoppers. During the test, Staples will be focused on how to deliver content that is relevant to customers on an ongoing basis.

“We are in the early stages,” said Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global ecommerce at Staples, Framingham, MA. “We are testing out new things to see how customers react, and this is one of those tests.

“At this stage, we have had customers register for it,” he said. “We offer an immediate discount when they do register. We try to deliver them deals in real-time, but we want to really check out the data on this.

“SMS is good. My only concern and challenge with SMS and notifications on your phone is that once you deliver content that the customer does not want, maybe once or twice, you lose relevance very, very quickly in the eyes of the customers.”

Building relationships
The $5 offer from Staples is a good way to build a mobile opt-in database that the retailer can come back to with additional offers in the future.

SMS is an important mobile marketing strategy for retailers because it enables them to reach a wide audience on both feature phones and smartphones.

For Staples, the strategy is part of an overall push to leverage mobile for building relationships with both online and in-store shoppers.

Mobile is an important focus for the retailer as it looks to drive sales.

Staples is the world’s largest office products company and the second largest internet retailer but has seen sales drop in recent quarters.

In Nov. 2013, Staples reported that third quarter sales had dropped 4 percent for a total of $6.1 billion. The retailer has also closed more than 100 stores.

Mobile innovation
As mobile drives a larger percentage of overall online sales and plays a bigger role in enhancing the in-store experience, it is critical that Staples proactively test and implement new mobile strategies.

To that end, Staples opened an innovation lab in late 2012 to expedite the delivery of  mobile and online solutions designed to enhance the shopping experience. The Velocity Lab office is located in Cambridge, MA (see story).

In addition to the new SMS program, Staples is also reportedly looking at ways to tailor its product selection for mobile users and to personalize mobile shopping.

Additionally, Staples recently overhauled its digital touch points, introducing a new mobile site and application late last year to make it easy for shoppers to start an order in one channel and finish it in another (see story).

Staples is also using location-based coupons in its app to drive in-store sales and track the impact of mobile on the path to purchase. Consumers who have downloaded the app and are within a geofenced area around a Staples receive the coupons (see story).

While many retailers have had SMS programs in place for some time already, Staples says it will be closely watching the text messaging results in order to ensure that shoppers are finding it useful.

“The folks delivering that content have to be very, very careful about what we deliver because, in the eyes of the customer it has to be super amazing so they are expecting it next time to be important again,” Mr. Masud said. “And if you don’t do that, you risk the fact that customers may not be interested in it down the road.

“I am a believer, if you can give the customer what they are looking for and notify them and keep that very successful, it is a great program,” he said. “If it gets a little bit muddied by things that they don’t want, I think it could be not such a great program.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York