Commentary

Please Geofence Me In: RetailMeNot Engagement Up 4X With Location Triggers

Whenever I pass by my local mall, a muted “Kaching” sound emanates from my pocket. It is familiar now, but was at first offputting.

“What just happened in your pants?” my wife would ask as we drive by the mall or enter its parking lot.

“I think I made a sale.”

“No, that doesn't sound right. We don't want you making sales of any kinds in your pants. There is nothing even remotely for sale in there.”

It was the RetailMeNot app, which -- as I have already recounted -- is a couponing and shopping app that has either saved me money at stores like Barnes & Noble and GameStop, or caused me to spend when I had not intended. With the geofencing on, the app alerts me when I am in the vicinity of the two major malls in my area, usually from the parking lot. But the highway passing one nearby mall is pretty much on top of the mall itself, triggering the app whenever we drive by.

“We were a little concerned about the technology,” says Jag Bath, SVP of Product. Because RetailMeNot has coupons and offers from thousands of retailers at countless locations, they decided to start only with geofence alerts around large footprint malls, where the person’s location was an unambiguous signal that she was in shopping mode.

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“We have triggered geolocation over 3 million times,” he says. The app has been downloaded 4 million times, with a high percentage of users opting in to the the location triggers.

The success of geo-triggers is clear. “We saw engagement go up 4X when we launched it. This was a big driver. But the interesting part is that the geo-triggers don’t just pull the user back into the app, but help elevate the app’s status in the user’s mind and memory. They started seeing more engagement from those opted in users even when the triggers were not being pulled. Shoppers started using the app more for pre-shopping. The company did usability studies, even accompanying participants into their homes. It helped them enhance the app with a “Near You” set of offers. On weekends, “we know there is a a planning phase consumers do at home. They check what offers may be at one mall or another."

They also see substantially different behaviors in the app from their desktop site. “It was clear consumers were engaging more in-store,” he says. So they launched a feature that saved coupons for later and have already seen 2.5 million saved.

Some of RetailMeNot’s retail merchant partners see apps like this as a hedge against possible showrooming because it incentivizes the shopper to buy on the spot in the store.

And while social sharing is usually associated with Facebook and Twitter for most forms of content, Bath says this is not the case for coupons and sales offers. “They share it is more often through texting and email on mobile rather than social sharing.” They are looking into ways of integrating the desktop and Web experience through a unified account where offers can be discovered, saved and used seamlessly across the platforms.

But even though RetailMeNot felt it better to err on the side of caution in using geofencing, the users are the ones asking for more. They want the app trigger pulled at a wider range of their favorite locations. Bath is exploring the next types of places where a geo-trigger would be most effective, like airports. Imagine if the app knew you were on a trip outside your usual territory and could ping you with special offers for hotels and restaurants as soon as you land.

Actually, the future of both geofencing and couponing apps both involve greater personalization. One of the current weaknesses of the RetailMeNot app is its sheer volume. There are too many retailors to rifle through even at my small mall before I find the two or three stores that matter to me. Bath admits that the app will need to get smarter, using explicit choices as well as past behaviors to surface the offers I want. This same process could guide increasing the number of geo-triggers for any user. Perhaps it should let my own search and usage patterns recommend more areas to which I could opt in for triggers?

Which brings us to the issue of creepiness. I have to say that at this point I don’t find a geo-trigger I elected to receive in any way intrusive or overbearing. I remember only a few years ago a widespread suspicion of the practice, because it risked making users feel watched. Three or four years of extremely helpful GPS use on smartphones has pretty much gotten most of us up to speed on this point. The phones aren’t spying on you.

It is now apparent to most people, I think, that your device does know where you are -- and more often than not you want that to be the case. Once a user embraces an app as beneficial, abstract fear of surveillance dissolves into a concrete consumer benefit in most cases. Perhaps it is ill-advised to think so, but it seems that when a user does trust a service that has made tangible the value add of behavioral or location tracking, many consumers are eager for more -- not less. Creepy is no longer an issue.

Well, almost.

“I really would like to know what is going on in those pants, you know,” my wife presses on. “I think I have certain proprietary rights in this area, you know. A husband’s pants start ringing up sales, a wife gets to know why.“

“How about if I told you that whatever it is, it will get you a discount on those lined running leggings you have been coveting at Land’s End. Would you leave it at that?”

“How big of a discount?”

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