I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Convenience stores and brands alike are looking to maximize the shelf edge to build brand recognition and drive sales, and in this age of technology, both parties are looking to redefine how they communicate with customers.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> A virtual extension of the shelf edge—and a highly complementary component of shopper marketing—is mobile technology. By making use of this nearly ubiquitous way to communicate, convenience stores now have the opportunity to turn a simple communication device into an indispensable shopping aid that extends the shelf edge directly into the shopper's hand. Mobile applications are poised to be the future of how retailers will communicate with shoppers in a way that's most convenient for them.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> While appealing to mobile-enabled shoppers is still an emerging trend, it will undoubtedly accelerate as upcoming generations turn to their mobile devices for coupons, specific product information, brand comparisons and more. A recently published Deloitte survey confirms that 57 percent of consumers already feel they would be interested in receiving a coupon on their phone.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In fact, many shoppers do already use mobile technology as part of their shopping, and the sooner retailers begin looking for ways to incorporate this medium into their broader marketing communication plans, the sooner they will begin capturing those shoppers and reaping the benefits. Ultimately, the key to success will be integration across all platforms to deliver a consistent and relevant shopper message that encourages loyalty and results in increased revenue.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Reaching Customers Where They Focus </b><br clear="none" /> Some convenience stores are communicating via the Web, and while there has been a lot of focus in recent years on building an online presence, returns have been mixed. With many shopping stops driven by convenience and made spur-of-the-moment, shoppers most likely are not checking Web sites before such visits. One answer to reaching these on-the-go shoppers could be a retailer application downloaded to an iPhone or other PDA that allows easier access to retailer information. This puts the brand promotion directly into the shopper's hand, and could contain information such as weekly specials and new items. At least one consumer package goods (CPG) company already created an application like this, but the opportunity is wide open for innovative retailers to take the lead as well.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> For example, a store promotion application could work with a smart phone's GPS-like ability to know where the user of the mobile device is at any given moment and provide shoppers directions to the nearest convenience store location. In addition, an offer from that store location could be sent to the shopper to provide additional value.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> This brings a retailer to the shopper before the he or she is even in the store. Such mobile marketing has the possibility of being a trip changer. Perhaps the shopper had been considering a stop at a grocery store, but was dreading the packed parking lot and long lines. A message to his or her mobile device could serve as a reminder that the items needed are just a block away at a convenience store.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Putting the Message Where it Needs to Be </b><br clear="none" /> The need for convenience stores to differentiate from competitors and provide a more satisfying shopping experience is greater than ever, and the logic of using existing shopping behaviors to drive awareness and sales is undeniable. Rather than trying to teach shoppers new behaviors, marketing where the shopper focuses, such as at a mobile device, puts the message where it needs to be at the right time. Shoppers appreciate the added information and may respond to messages through increased purchases of promoted products. Shoppers have demonstrated time and again they are willing to change a habit if there is a perceived benefit.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> It's been said nothing provides opportunity like a good crisis. With today's difficult economy, there has never been a better time for convenience stores to rethink how they view their customers, their stores, and the interaction between them. Finding ways to engage shoppers in meaningful ways and providing an environment that both entices and differentiates is the right path to sales.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We are getting closer and closer to one-on-one marketing in all aspects of business. Today's mobile marketing, though still in its infancy, is a big step in that direction.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Jeff Weidauer is vice president of marketing for Vestcom International Inc., a provider of technological retail solutions based in Little Rock, Ark. Visit <a href="http://www.vestcom.com" target="_blank">www.vestcom.com</a> for more information.</i><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> --<a href="http://www.csnews.com/csn/index.jsp" target="_blank">Nielsen Business Media</a>