The web is full of stories like this - only they are usually about small "mom and pop"-type stores: independent retailers, small chains, those the outside world sees as being most under threat from the big bad GAFA* and their ilk.
A large, and well-known high street retailer (in the UK) has an app. Relatively new. Within the app is a tool that allows customers to scan barcodes (traditional ones and the new-fangled QR codes
alike). This is a retailer that is doing good things with mobile. Has been for awhile. Has been having success at it. Has it's customers engaged through it. This retailer is learning and exploring. "Fail fast" is bandied around.
So, it in an unusual (perhaps unexpected) move, the decision was made to restrict the barcode scanner tool within the app to only be able to scan the codes of that particular retailer. Everything else was locked down, unavailable. Presumably from some irrational fear over "showrooming
As if locking down a code reader within the app is going to prevent any customer savvy enough (i.e. most of us) to download the retailers app from being able to download a different barcode scanning app and carrying on regardless?
My immediate reaction upon hearing this was: doh! What a waste.
You could have had your customers using your app to scan things. Anything. Your store or in your competitors. Or completely unrelated. But, blimey - talk about big data.
All that analytics, for starters. And personalised, to some degree (even if just against a device, rather than a known individual). That gives you an amazing opportunity to learn an enormous amount about customer x and, hopefully, to use that in a way that enables you to entice them into your store and buy from you via really perfectly tailored marketing messages, offers and the like.
Then there's the branding issue. You have them scanning things in competitor stores, with your name and brand in their faces whilst they do it. At the very least it gives your marketing a chance to carry on working and perhaps nudge them to think about looking at your stock offering and seeing if they'd be better off coming to you to buy instead.
And if your back end and messaging capabilities are up to snuff, you can do this in real time. Oh, customer x has just scanned the barcode for a summer dress, size y, colour z, price £££.. cross-correlate that with our inventory and push an in-app message over with a link to something similar (or even complimentary - "we see you are interested in that dress, perhaps these shoes, or this handbag would go nicely with that?") in your online store. With the right opt-in permissions, and ahead-of-time customer expectations this transforms in the customer's mind from creepy to useful, helpful and welcome.
Yes, some of this is big brother-ish. But it's what the big online firms (Google and Amazon being two obvious culprits) do day in and day out anyway and not necessarily very openly (to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law).
Set all this up with explicit permission and you can be overt and charming about it with your customers: they are in your app, after all. In some respects, they will probably expect it and even welcome such knowledge and understanding.
High street brands need to invest in their data and analytics capabilities so they can make the most of the insight mobile data can give them – and ideally specialist data skills need to be integrated into marketing departments so that lessons can be learnt and acted upon. Next, mobile data needs to be joined up with the other data sets a brand might have, such as sales data, to properly enhance its understanding of customers.
So - rather than running scared from customer behaviour, embrace the scary new and find the right way to turn it to your advantage. There will be a way
This retailer has discovered it's error. And it's a costly one, as it has to re-code and re-issue the app. But, perhaps, by failing (quite quickly) they have learnt an important lesson along the way.
Written by Jason Cross, Marketing Director
*GAFA = Google, Amazon, Facebook & Apple