Getting Consumers To Add CRM Data To Mobile Wallets Is Really Hard, Until You Think Like A Shopper

Written by Evan Schuman
October 31st, 2012

The idea that mobile wallets should also house loyalty cards is all but mandatory at this point, and the rationale appears to be the classic, “why not?” But shoppers have been decidedly apathetic, responding with their own, “Why should I?” It’s a replay of the mobile and contactless payment problem, where a digital system is trying to displace a manual system (magstripe swipes, in the case of payment) that works perfectly well and that customers are used to it.

What makes this disconnect worse is the real reason mobile wallets need CRM/loyalty functionality: Shoppers have no problem with existing loyalty cards, because they just don’t use them that often. The retailer benefit in mobile loyalty cards is clear: much greater use of CRM. But the benefit for shoppers? That’s much more amorphous.

Given that shoppers have no problem with their existing loyalty cards, why should they take the effort to scan their cards—or to download the mobile apps for all their favorite retailers? If there was a concrete benefit—such as “40 percent off all purchases in November or December” or “for every five retail loyalty programs you enter, you’ll get a $25 gift certificate, up to $250″—then they’d do it. Failing such a concrete incentive, though, someone needs to make the process so effortless, so fun, so non-hassle-like that shoppers will willingly go through the process.

Please don’t get me wrong. There is a very legitimate benefit to shoppers to having all these CRM/loyalty programs in one place. They’ll be able to get more perks, because the CRM capability will always be with them and, often, will be automatic. They’ll have less to carry, along with compelling targeted promotions—flagging them when those shoes they really want go on a deep sale—that will appear far more often.

But those shopper benefits only happen after all the boring scanning work happens. And even then they won’t materialize until lots of retailers start making such benefits happen.

Until that happens, there’s simply not a lot of reason for consumers to get onboard. So let’s give them one. What if a physical retailer invited shoppers to visit its stores with an envelope full of all their loyalty cards?

The process would be relaxed and fun. Coffee, sodas, bagels and tea sandwiches would be offered, along with, perhaps, a massage or a manicure or maybe a haircut. While shoppers are enjoying the service, an associate is scanning away and entering all the necessary data into each customer’s mobile device. Shoppers would then be asked where else they shop, and the associate would obligingly download those loyalty apps into the mobile wallet, too.

At the end, the customer would again be given something nice, such as a $50 gift certificate for the chain that offered the service. Now there’s a reason for consumers to have all their loyalty/CRM info placed into their mobile devices. Of course, there’s a huge problem with this approach. Who would do it? What chain would expend that effort to encourage shoppers to integrate the cards of its rivals? Would Apple do it? Why would it bother? How about AT&T, Verizon or Sprint? Although everyone wants it done, no one has a strong incentive to do it. And without that effort, few shoppers have a reason to bother, either.

The advantage for shoppers exists within the comprehensiveness, the completeness, of their loyalty/CRM mobile app. If it really has just about every major retailer each consumer uses, the benefits and convenience kick in. If it just has the two or three easy ones, the value is much less.

Today, most shoppers don’t use loyalty cards for every retailer, and they don’t even typically use them for all their favorite retailers. In fact, many chains are quite willing to waive a generic loyalty card for customers who don’t have their cards with them, giving the customer the benefit without the effort.

It’s hard to find a mobile app that is not soliciting loyalty card data from multiple chains, including Google Wallet, ISIS, Paypal’s wallet, ebay’s RedLaser app, ShopKick’s app and Apple’s Passbook. CRM is the key to a huge range of benefits, but is it ultimately needed in a mobile world? The point of a loyalty card is to act as a unique customer identifier, an easy way to associate all—or as much as possible—of a specific customer’s activity with that one shopper. But doesn’t the mobile device itself easily give off a wide range of unique identifiers? If that info was made universal, why not enable each chain to offer benefits to that phone?

The real goldmine of consolidating loyalty cards is to do what just about everyone involved swears they’ll never do: share data about what Jane Doe is doing at Target with Walmart and then let both chains know what Jane is doing at Amazon. Given that no one has agreed to do it—indeed, MCX goes out of its way to stress that every chain’s data is its and its alone—what’s the benefit even to retailers of consolidating loyalty apps?


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