What Keeps Brands From Mobile Coupons?

Coupon on cell phone

Antiquated point-of-sale (POS) hardware and software, integration issues into backend IT infrastructures, and lack of buy-in from CIOs who approve budgets continue to keep some brands from offering mobile coupons, agreed a expert panelist this week at OMMA Global New York.

It's not difficult getting buy-in from the marketing group. They typically like the one-on-one marketing strategy that mobile coupons offer. It's the operations group that presents problems. It's their job to make sure the technology in retail stores remains easy to use.

"If it takes longer for consumers to check out, that's the kiss of death," says Phuc Truong, managing director of mobile marketing in the U.S. at Mobext, which supports customers, such as Sears, Kmart and Autozone. "If you can make it past operations, you need to sell it to the technology group, and it's their job to say no, no matter what you have to tell them."

Troung says the company typically will have an infrastructure in place. Mobile coupons will likely require the retail chain to rip out the old and install new. IT will want to know the cost of the new system and the return on investment. Trying to convince three groups within a retail company can make the deployment cycle long and tedious, he says.

Buy-in across the company is one problem, and technology integration presents another. There are tons of POS terminals and software, and they are not all compatible. Some retail chains will have several POS systems. And if the store supports franchises, the count can skyrocket to dozens.

Regardless of the obstacles, Cynthia Methvin, digital media analyst at Scarborough research, insists consumers want mobile coupons. Highly educated professionals that have a lot of money to spend are interested in mobile coupons, she says.

"Consumers are ready, and now technology experts need to figure out how we go in that door to use the coupons," Methvin says.

Citadel Media Director of Mobile Marketing Dennis Cook supports a variety of radio stations that have mobile clubs to connect with listeners, but local stations seem to have the most success. In fact, nearly one million mobile club members get text messages when contests are available or special guests come into the their local radio station studio for interviews with radio personalities.

Concert promoters will sponsor 40-character ad tags on mobile phone text messages to radio listeners. These messages allow people to redeem the text blasts for coupons to get discounts on tickets or other products.

Cellfire, which did not participate in the panel, has begun matching store loyalty card numbers with mobile phone applications in an effort to solve some of the back- and front-end IT integration problems, according to August Trometer, cocreator at Yowza, which provides location-based coupons.

For some reason, Texas has been a hotbed for testing emerging technologies. It's where Wal-Mart Stores began trialing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology across its supply chain from distribution centers to warehouses and on to retail store floors.

Supporting projects in Texas, Cellfire works with Kroger in Dallas, as well as JCPenney in the Houston area. The application lets customers scan mobile coupons directly from their phones at checkout.

Starbucks also reported this week that it would begin testing a mobile payment option that lets people use the app to buy products by swiping an on-screen barcode that is scanned similar to a plastic Starbucks Card. Sixteen West Coast stores have begun trialing the e-commerce feature.

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