Mobile Dialogue

Messaging to smart-phone customers, cloud talk circulates at NACStech

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

LAS VEGAS -- For every four parts technology, add two parts people. The recipe seemed to resound for attendees at NACStech in Las Vegas this week during workshop discussions on everything from mobile couponing to the use of third-party "cloud" computing.

On the customer side, retailers attending the annual industry conference and trade show seemed highly interested in workshops involving mobile communications. Even though the channel has not traditionally handled coupons, the idea of electronically communicating promotions was popular, with about 150 in attendance.

Panelists [image-nocss] reviewed different mobile communication methods including short message service (SMS) or texting, mobile couponing and even taking photos of a quick response code (QRC) or postage-stamp sized bar code. Taking on the topic of QRCs, Larry Jackson, managing director of a three-store chain called Good to Go Markets, Columbia, Md., put a slide of a barcode photo before the crowd and asked attendees to take a photo of it with their smart phones. About 20 or so took him up on the offer and soon received a "thank you" text for attending.

"It's about community interaction," Jackson said, explaining that people who "like" your Facebook page are opting in to messages that can forward a chain's brand. "They're saying, 'I like you; market to me.'"

Explaining that messaging options ranged from simple to complex, Erika Curtis, product specialist for electronic payment systems, Growmark, Bloomington, Ill., said they've opted for the more advanced services that can include tracking data, targeted messaging and redemption control.

In messaging scenarios, retailers can advertise a "keyword" that customers can text to a shortened phone number (called a short code). Much like the QRC, they can then receive information on a promotion or get a notice saying they've "won" a candy bar or free drink.

Panel moderator, Rick Sales, president of Abierto Networks Inc., Exeter, Mass., detailed a promotional effort by a retail chain done at a local rock concert. By flashing a keyword and short code on the event's big screen, they were able to get concert goers to text in to win a c-store item. The promotion snared almost 2,000 texts, with noticeable trends involving redemption flow as big lessons.

They saw waves of texting as ads flashed onto big screens and an uptick soon after as it went "viral" (when people started to win prizes and others next to them took notice). The chain also saw redemptions at stores peak within two hours of people attending the event.

Where one spectrum of NACStech workshops dealt with consumers, another focused on operational issues. In a workshop on third-party or "cloud" computing, Doug Tidwell, senior software engineer at IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., described how North Carolina Sate University out of Raleigh, N.C., used a cloud-based platform to reduce costs and still effectively meet the school's growing information technology (IT) needs.

He said the feat was largely one of convincing the proper parties to share resources and participate in the final solution. In one instance, a department that had won a grant to buy a high-end server had to be convinced to share it with the rest of the university. Tidwell said IT staff accomplished this by agreeing to pay for maintenance and to give the department 100% use when it needed it. Turns out, the department only used the server 68% of the time.

When asked what retail scenarios are typical for cloud-based systems, Tidwell said that retailers want to review their tasks at the store level. They want to see what they can centralized and remove from the hands of clerks and managers. "It's not always a matter of saving money, but focusing the employee on the job at the store," Tidwell said.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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