Two recent announcements prove that retailers are very much in the mobile payments game. First, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart and Target were among two dozen retailers collaborating on a mobile commerce project. Then, Starbucks shared the impressive numbers from its Starbucks Mobile app, which launched in the United States in January 2011, and the United Kingdom and Canada a year later. 42 million: that's how many transactions the company has processed in the 15 months since it launched, and 16 million of those happened between December and April.
Retailers aren't waiting for NFC, or for banks or Google Wallet-or permission. They're getting ahead and launching their own systems. And why not? They're seizing the opportunity to take control of the customer relationship, which they already own, in a new channel.
Enhance what you already do
Mobile opens up a new world of possibilities to offer new services and create direct relationships with customers. The opportunity is huge, and to make the most of it, you must tie it in to what you already do.
The Starbucks Mobile app is a great example of what it takes to succeed with mobile commerce and mobile CRM. It's not fancy or complicated. It's simply a digital version of the coffee giant's existing loyalty card, already popular with millions of customers. Load funds to the mobile app starting with a prepaid card and then a credit card, bring your phone to any Starbucks in the United States, United Kingdom or Canada (it works across countries), and scan the barcode at the register after selecting your coffee. Simple, and here's the key: more convenient and rewarding than cash or credit. (Though the loyalty aspect, which only applies to U.S. customers, requires a hefty 45 purchases to receive your first free drink, it only takes 15 to earn them thereafter.)
From payments to CRM
Once a company has a successful mobile payment method, it's a short road to mobile loyalty and engagement programmes. Not only do retailers have a direct marketing channel for sending offers, coupons, alerts and reminders, they also receive detailed information about each customer's purchasing behavior with every transaction.
Put this information to use, and suddenly the company knows who redeems coupons, when, what they bought and how much they spent, and can incorporate all of that into future marketing and loyalty programmes.
Global corporations, Internet shopping and the popularity of self-service have reduced the number of face-to-face interactions retailers have with customers. Mobile, which combines all three factors, ironically can help re-establish that direct, personal relationship. It's possible to bring back a mom-and-pop level of familiarity without retuning to a mom-and-pop business model.
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