A Little Problem With Big Data

Courtesy RetailWire.comA STIMULATING DISCUSSION in RetailWire.com this morning led me to once again think deeply about how retailers are confronting so-called Big Data and applying it to their businesses.

The question posed was an intriguing one, given the continuing hype and mysticism ascribed to Big Data over the past several years.

What is your take on the advancements (or not) retailers are making in the use of data capture and analysis? Is it all leading to significantly improved customer experiences down the road, or something less?

The responses mostly seemed to accept two tacit assumptions: One, that all store data is Big Data. Two, that the primary goal of Big Data analytics is the creation of targeted promotional offers. I have a little problem with that.

When did retail POS data suddenly become Big Data? We’ve been collecting it (and mostly discarding it) for decades. Now that storage costs have finally declined, we can capture and hold it long enough to run a few queries and design a few models. Shopper in-store data really hasn’t changed much, but our ability to mine its potential has certainly advanced.

Certainly data flows from the POS and frequent shopper programs continue to expand. There are even some new sources, like in-store shopper tracking, entering the mix. Yes there’s lots of data. But is this really Big Data?

Read more

Contactless Payments — What’s Taking So Long?

Mywallet in PolandIT’S BEEN A HALF-DECADE since I first got religion about the potential for “contactless payments” using NFC-enabled wallets in mobile phones. A very bright entrepreneur brought the concept to my attention and asked me to help advise his new firm. I agreed and got myself launched up the learning curve.

Most readers probably know that NFC (near-field communications) is a form of wireless radio that works only across a few centimeters. It’s perfect for enabling a mobile phone to communicate securely with a point of sale terminal. If the phone has an NFC chip and wallet app installed, a tap can function as a substitute for a card-swipe to enable payments and even frequent-shopper redemptions in a few milliseconds.

Mobile wallets are gaining traction throughout the developed world. The image reproduced here documents Eurobank’s version in Poland. Here in the U.S. we observe a slower pace of development, although the recent launch of Apple Pay seems to have kicked up the interest. Then again, yesterday’s disclosure of a data breech affecting the competing CurrentC service from Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) has a lot of heads shaking.

Read more

Authenticity: If You Can Fake That…

Groucho-1933-Duck-Soup-300

RIGHT NOW CONTENT MARKETING is the name of the game. That’s Content with a capital C, which is presently a thriving business in the ad agency domain. The idea is to influence the trends that flow through social and mobile media by inserting Content on behalf of brands.

There are many ways to accomplish this — ranging from hiring ringers to post favorable reviews and spam blog comments, to sharing genuinely valuable consumer information like product usage tips or recipes. It is also desirable to monitor Content posted by others, then respond as needed to amplify, rebut, or influence perceptions.

The motivation is, I think, largely fear-based. The social-mobile frenzy generates tons of uncontrolled consumer sharing, both pro and con, accurate and inaccurate. No doubt there are also dirty tricks being played every day by competitors bent on undermining their rivals. Brands lose sleep over losing control of their messages and so they hire hip young firms to help them create and spread content of their own.

The trick to making Content work is to put enough of it in front of the folks the brand wants to influence, especially the ones capable of influencing others — like bloggers and social media divas. The agencies are supposed to ensure that the Content is both artful and discoverable by the target audience. Hipness and coolness are good traits too.

So the goal is to create the right Content and embed it within the right Context, in order to better drive Commerce. A key attribute to making all of this work is authenticity — the perception that the Content is believable, relevant, and true (probably in that order). The new Content Marketing agencies are all over this, of course.

Today I shared a bit of content of my own on RetailWire.com as part of a discussion, Which Came First? The Content Or The Egg? It make me think about the quip about sincerity most often attributed to Groucho Marx, who is pictured here in the classic film, “Duck Soup.” (It may actually have been first uttered by French dramatist Jean Giradoux, but Groucho is funnier.)

Here’s my take:

It seems “content” is a wheel that keeps on rolling. Remember the “content is king” slogan that was popular at the peak of the dot-com frenzy? Its relevance then was the hunger for product data and other information needed to populate the new web sites. If you build it, you have to fill it with something, right?

Content was soon displaced by “commerce” as folks got the shopping cart and delivery mechanisms worked out and consumers got used to the idea of shopping remotely. After a period of more or less centralized control, the social-mobile reality has caused user-created content to explode, but in an entirely uncontrolled manner.

It is into this chaotic environment that the new content marketers are venturing. They hope their organized campaigns will somehow float above the SoMoLoMe din, resulting in a degree of influence over brand perceptions. A whole industry of B2C content marketing agencies is emerging to service this trend.

The risk is that these messages drown in a vast content sea in which the relevant mixes with the contrived. I don’t believe brands will win in this environment simply by opening the floodgates or turning up the volume.

Only quality and authenticity can win in such content-flooded environment. To paraphrase the sage, Groucho: If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

The End of Loyalty

Tom Fishburne cartoonIF IT EVER WAS, it’s fading fast. I’m talking about shopper loyalty and the card-based frequent shopper programs that try to pass as loyalty builders.

I’ve long been a skeptic about the premise of customer loyalty. Card based programs are more about behavioral modification, segmentation and targeting. In many instances — airlines come to mind — the net result is the cultivation of dis-loyalty and skepticism, as a consequence of added complexity, suffocating rules, suspect prices and incentives that many users can never achieve.

Now comes news that the Kroger supermarket chain has begun converting its frequent shopper card holders to a smartphone app. This is news with big numbers behind it, as 96% of Kroger shoppers presently possess a card. Its personalized marketing subsidiary, dunnhumby, is surely driving this action.

This morning, the good folks at RetailWire.com asked its distinguished BrainTrust panelists: “Will Kroger’s App Replace its Loyalty Card?”  Here’s what I had to say about it:

Welcome to the post-loyalty era.

Card programs are not quite obsolete, but they are about to be absorbed by mobile apps. While a front-runner such as Kroger/dunnhumby may be able to convert many shoppers to its proprietary app for a while, the lasting future will be defined by electronic wallet solutions that aggregate frequent shopper plans, coupons and payments on the shopper’s terms. NFC communication with the POS will likely be a key enabling technology.

An observation: The pure value of of frequent shopper data is approaching its zenith. It now diminishes slightly in relative significance as the volume of social media interaction grows. This is the mind-bending next stage in behavioral-based marketing: Things people do, say and experience outside the store may soon eclipse what happens within the four walls.

For retailers that have steadfastly bucked the loyalty-card trend (like Walmart), this may be a moment of affirmation. Or maybe they just got lucky.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser
%d bloggers like this: