Targeting Aisle 5: A Report From The Proximity Marketing Trenches

Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

The aisles of our local Giant grocery store are alive with the synthesized sounds of cash registers noting savings. This is an unintended consequence of the chain’s generally impressive and advanced use of in-store mobile service and marketing. The company is working with the Catalina-owned Scan-It platform to realize that longstanding dream of mobile marketing: letting  retailer and merchandise partners accompany the shopper virtually through the aisles.

My wife and I have been using the Giant Scan-It platform for several months now, so we speak from unique personal exposure to the next generation of data-driven personalization in shopping technology.

Here is an interim report.

The Scan-It program works on two devices, a dedicated handheld scanner the shopper picks up from a wall at the entrance, or from a standard downloadable mobile app. In either case the device is keyed to your loyalty card so it has a purchase history baked into the experience. The experience is supposed to push offers based on your personal patterns.

The value-add for the customer is not just savings, but efficiency: scanning items as you put them in basket or bag so you don’t t need to unload, scan and bag at the self checkout. For my wife, this is a big deal. She brings her eco-friendly bags with her to the store and simply fills them up in the cart as we go. There is a bit of habit lag going on, so we catch ourselves occasionally forgetting to scan an item we choose from the shelf, but we catch ourselves before any inadvertent “shoplifting” occurs.

The handheld scanner is more location-sensitive than the mobile app. My smartphone app ties in to the store WiFi and then automatically loads coupons before I start shopping so I can see personalized special offers. The handheld saves the offers until it detects the relevant aisle.

Thus the “ka-ching!” that signals when an offer is nearby in the aisle. When we started using Scan-It months ago, only one or two of us at a time used the system. A few months later, and the symphony of ka-chings we now hear across the aisles is the clearest sign that shoppers are embracing the platform. In fact we have gone to the store at times only to find the entire wall of Scan-It devices unavailable because they were all being recharged.

My wife is happy with the new efficiency of self-checkout. We don’t find ourselves making much use of the targeted offers, but the promotions are relevant.

What is most intriguing about the experience over time is that we are looking less for deals, and more for richer relevant content. Shouldn’t the retailer know from our buying patterns that we are vegan? That we almost never buy processed food?

My wife is interested in having recipes piped into the system. Why can’t she pick up an unfamiliar vegetable and get preparation suggestions while she is the store, where she can get the other ingredients? She is looking not just for deals but for ideas.

This raises an interesting perspective. For retailers, in-store is the end point: the place where they get paid. For consumers, being in-store is the start point. Whether it is apparel or produce, you are buying things in order to use them elsewhere. The way to enhance that in-store experience is to give shoppers the material they need to imagine how items will be used. The next stage of enriching the shopping experience with targeted content is understanding why shoppers are buying in the first place. Consumption is not the act of buying a product. It is the act of using it. 

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3 comments about "Targeting Aisle 5: A Report From The Proximity Marketing Trenches".
  1. Lucky Balaraman from The Magnum Group (TMG) , April 23, 2014 at 9:22 a.m.
    Steve, A great use of technology. One question: how does Giant deter shoplifters (who deliberately do not scan items they put in their bags?) Best, Lucky Balaraman TMG Business Intelligence Consulting
  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost , April 23, 2014 at 10:04 a.m.
    Hi Lucky. So far as I can tell it is on your honor. I am guessing they presume the shoppers who are loyalty card holders and who go through the process of picking up a scanner are the returning customers who have both a moral and practical interest in being honest.
  3. Lucky Balaraman from The Magnum Group (TMG) , April 23, 2014 at 12:19 p.m.
    Steve: Interesting theory. IMHO there will be a small fraction of customers who steal, and I hope Giant has determined that the losses thus incurred are not significant, although I cannot imagine how they would determine those losses. Best, Lucky