NRF Bulletin: Personalization Done Right

I’VE BEEN ON RECORD many times as a hater of shopper loyalty, but an advocate of intelligent personalization.

I admit my position can be construed as mincing words, but I remain stubbornly committed to the distinction. When marketers and retailers try to ascribe loyalty to their card-carrying customers they are usually delusional. When they demonstrate their commitment to those customers through good acts – by providing relevant values and experiences – they embark on a golden path.

Supermarket chains so regularly miss this distinction with their frequent shopper card programs that it is a small revelation to encounter one who seems to have it right. In a presentation at the National Retail Federation Convention and Expo this week in New York, Loblaw Companies, Ltd., the leading grocery operator in Canada, shared some insights about its PC Plus shopper program, launched last May, that suggest it belongs in that exclusive tier.

“From our best customers we capture 55-60% of their share of wallet. That leaves so much opportunity just with them,” said Peter Lewis, Sr. Dir., Customer Analytics & Loyalty at Loblaw (pictured at left in the photo above, with Graeme McVie, VP and GM at LoyaltyOne.)

That’s an insightful way of looking at the return from a frequent shopper program that truly distinguishes highest-value relationships and cultivates them accordingly. Best shoppers deserve our best efforts because they are our best prospects too.

Loblaw has embraced this approach with PC Plus, its digitally-enabled frequent shopper program, said Lewis. On a year-over-year basis, enrolled customers who used the targeted offers changed their behaviors in desirable ways:

  • They increased their number of visits by 12%
  • Their average basket size increased by 5%
  • The number of categories they purchase increased by 7%

Lewis also shared some statistics from the first 6 weeks of the program that indicated rapid acceptance:

  • 40% of sales were made using the card
  • More than 6,000 members were signed per store
  • 50% email open rate
  • 35% click-through rate on those emails

PC Plus uses analytics to deliver relevant, highly personalized offers. With thousands of offers available across the store, the mix is tailored down to the individual level, based on each shopper’s history.

“How big is the prize from personalization?” said Graeme McVie of LoyaltyOne, the company which helps Loblaw implement and operate PC Plus. “Even with best customers, opportunities exist to grow share of spend.” He shared an analysis of the 50 store categories across the top 20% of customers, which indicated a 50-70% share of spending, a finding which underscores the present value of best shoppers, but also their upside potential.

PC Plus is increasingly focused on the smartphone app as the “control center” for the shopper, Lewis said. It allows them to manage shopping lists from their phones, informs them of available offers, and allows them to accept offers in real time, even while waiting in the checkout lane moments before a transaction.

McVie added that the design of PC Plus is oriented toward “democratizing shopper insights.” Its strategy is two-fold: understand the needs of individual customers and consistently execute actions to satisfy them.

I’ve stated previously in this blog that we are entering a “post-loyalty” era, but intelligent personalization is far from dead. In fact it may just be hitting its stride at Loblaw.

© Copyright 2014 James Tenser

Call It Mobile Yellow

Scan these tags!

I SPIED THE WHOLE grocery universe in a single bunch of fruit. This transcendental experience occurred just last week in West Des Moines, IA. (Quite rightly.)

It all happened in a bright, spacious HyVee supermarket in an upscale, verdant neighborhood that a decade ago was pretty much a cornfield. I entered the store thinking, “They built this, so I have come.”

But my Field of Dreams reverie dissolved when I stepped up to the produce department. My first view was an abundant display of bananas – the largest selling produce item in most supermarkets.

I pulled out my smartphone and snapped this picture, with the classic lyric by Donovan resonating in my brain like a prophetic soundtrack:

Electrical banana is gonna be a sudden craze
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase

You see, what really blew my mind were the two little stickers on this hand of bananas. On the left, a stacked UPC bar code and on the right a QR (quick response) 2D code. Each of these artifacts tells a little story about the impact of digital technology on our business. (Quite rightly)

The UPC bar code is of format known as RSS_14 designed to convey more information than old-style 9-digit codes. When I scan it with a gadget on my smart phone it correctly identifies the product as Dole bananas. Presumably the POS scanners in this HyVee supermarket are just as smart. The advantage: it saves the checker a few keystrokes and accurately enters the PLU (price look up) code for this variety of produce which is sold by weight.

The QR code on the right is used to direct shoppers to a web site called . When I scanned it with the same smart phone app, it led me to a page pitching a simple kitchen appliance that lets consumers make a soft-serve dessert from frozen ripe bananas and other fruit.

The Dole brand is featured prominently on the target Web page. Presumably there’s a deal behind it all. The Yonana appliance is marketed by Healthy Foods LLC, itself a division of Winston Products LLC in Cleveland, Ohio.

Peering at my smartphone screen under the fluorescent lights in that immaculate HyVee store in one of the greenest places in America, I found myself thinking, “It really has come to this: agricultural and digital have converged in America’s heartland.”

Then the digital banana concept set off a minor cascade of linguistic play: Bananas come in hands… Digit is Latin for finger… Smart phones are made with gorilla glass… (Quite rightly)

So in tribute to Donovan, the iconic Sunshine Superman inducted this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’d like to offer this (somewhat less lilting) variation on his theme:

Digital banana is gonna be a sudden craze
Digital banana is bound to be the very next phase
I call it mobile yellow (Quite rightly)

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

Why In-Store Implementation Is the Next Frontier

I CALL IT the Paradox of Scale: Grocery chains keep getting bigger, but industry profit performance remains stagnant.

It’s been a doggedly persistent trend. Between 1992 and 2009, the top 20 U.S. grocery retailers increased their cumulative market share from 39% to 64%, according to the U.S. Economic Research Service. Meanwhile from 1996 to 2010, industry net profits have hovered consistently around 1% of sales, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

These facts seem to run counter to intuition. After all, bigger chains are supposed to have top-of-the-line executive talent, fine-tuned supply chains, advanced IT systems, greater buying clout and economies of scale. A deeper look reveals the paradox: Bigger chains also suffer from intensified store operational complexity, larger assortments and poorer visibility from the home office.

Bottom line – as chains expand, store performance management gets much, much harder. This begins to explain why out-of-stocks continue to run at 8.2%, unchanged in 15 years, yet 78% of items sell fewer than 3 units per week. It begins to explain why as many as half of all authorized in-store display promotions are never erected or erected late. It begins to explain why most retailers have no effective process in place to ensure or even monitor everyday planogram compliance.

A Rich Prize

Where some may find darkness and frustration in these statistics, others identify a golden opportunity. The In-Store Implementation Sharegroup identified tens of billions of dollars at stake – a rich prize indeed. Bold retailers and marketers who commit to improve retail compliance practices in the next few years should gain a distinct performance advantage over their less nimble competitors.

In-Store Implementation is not an isolated solution; it’s a multi-threaded initiative that incorporates improved in-store sensing and measurement; better inputs into planning processes; a performance-oriented culture; and alignment of trading partner resources. Many of the enabling practices and tools already exist, ad hoc. Still needed is an organizing principle that can tie them together into an effective set of best practices for the industry.

Workshop at LEAD

In just two weeks, a select group of industry thought leaders will come together to explore how to make this ambitious agenda a beneficial reality. They will be participating in a pre-conference workshop at the LEAD Marketing Conference in Rosemont, IL, on Sept. 19.

The workshop is presented by the In-Store Implementation Network, a membership organization with an educational mission centered on advancing awareness and knowledge of ISI practices. The group boasts more than 1,400 practitioner members in 28 countries who share a common goal – the establishment of a culture of performance at retail that makes stores work better, shoppers more successful and businesses more profitable.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship support of our friends at Gladson, ISI Network has assembled an all-star faculty to address key facets of the opportunity. The workshop format is intended to ensure that participants will leave the half-day event with a fresh perspective and practical ideas that may be applied immediately to their own ISI business challenges. As Executive Director of the ISI Network, I will be the lead facilitator of this workshop.

A few seats remain available; admission is complimentary to retail and CPG practitioners. I look forward to greeting many of you in Rosemont!

To register for the LEAD Marketing Conference, click here.

For a detailed agenda about the ISI Pre-Conference Workshop, click here.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser

The Epsilon Imperative

CMOs: Is your brand in the crosshairs?

IN WHAT SOME observers say was the largest breach of consumer data in history, this week servers at Epsilon Interactive, a database services company based in Irving, TX, were compromised by hackers, exposing the names and email addresses of millions of American consumers to the spam-o-sphere.

Within hours, alerts hit my personal inbox from Kroger, Target, Walgreen and HiltonHHonors informing me that they had been struck and that one of my addresses was now in the wild. Why did these gigantic companies have my email address stored in Epsilon servers? Simple. I am enrolled in their frequent shopper programs. And until now, Epsilon was as reputable and secure a place as you could get to host your customer data.

Which partly explains why the 50 or so huge retail and consumer-facing companies whose customer email lists were exposed by this attack include the likes of Best Buy, HSN, CapitalOne, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Marriott and TiVo. These companies depend on email communications for the inexpensive delivery of relevant messaging and offers to their customers. Now each of them has been forced to warn their customers about the potential for spam and phishing attacks. By email.

The implications of this are quite chilling, and should give pause to every Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Customer Officer charged with the custody of shopper relationships and brand equity. Shareholders had better pay attention too. This, my friends, is your first early warning. I call it the Epsilon Imperative.

First, the good news
It could have been worse. While the data quantities are vast, and the affected brands are iconic, at least the damage was limited to names and email addresses, we are told. Wholesale identity theft does not appear to be a great direct risk, although enterprising list dealers and data miners will be tempted to merge the email address tables with other lists, thus creating more complete profiles for future exploitation.

And the email notices I received came fairly promptly. Well, one from McKinsey Quarterly arrived within hours of the media alert on Saturday. Walgreen and Fry’s (Kroger) got their notices to us later the same day. Hilton and Target waited until after the weekend. (OK, timings of the last two are really not that impressive, come to think of it.)

The positive take-away is that most of the frequent shopper/guest list owners exhibited some consciousness of responsibility for the incident, even though it was caused by an outside criminal act against a third-party service bureau (Epsilon). They acted promptly, recognizing that shoppers and guests must be made to feel that the brands have their best interests at heart. Failure to inform would be a lapse of good faith.

Why marketers should care
While preserving public confidence and brand equity are major concerns, this is only one factor for top retail and hospitality executives. Another, less-understood implication is legal regulatory exposure. This is an area that evolved rapidly following the notorious TJX data breech of 2005, which exposed 46 million credit card numbers but did not come to light until 2007.

California led the pack with the first security breech notification legislation in 2008. But the model for this legislation came not surprisingly in the state of Massachusetts, where TJX is headquartered. At least 46 other states followed with their own versions.

The Massachusetts General Law titled, “Standards for Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth” (Chapter 93H), defines a comprehensive set of data security obligations on businesses, including the development and maintenance of a “comprehensive written information security program.” Deadline for compliance with this law was Mar. 1, 2010.

Several legal scholars have observed that the Massachusetts law would apply to every company who has even one list member residing within the state. It also sets the best practice standard for written information security programs. Since modern ecommerce is “borderless,” many companies will be subject to such oversight in every state.

This means that any company with a direct marketing or frequent shopper list that fails to prepare and maintain a private data response plan may be exposed to dozens of lawsuits imposed by state attorneys general. Legal fees and fines can spiral out of hand, and the secondary damage to brand reputation may be multiplied along with it. It seems that loyalty programs just got harder to operate.

Protect your shoppers – and your brand
What can a responsible marketing executive do to protect customers and company from the cascade of negative consequences that may result from the inevitable data breech? Maintaining state-of-the-art data security measures and the comprehensive written information security program are certainly essential. CIOs worldwide work feverishly at data security, but it’s up to the CMO and CCO to protect brand and customer equity by ensuring that sound response plans and practices are put into place.

A great many consumer-facing businesses consider loyalty and relevance-based marketing to be essential competitive activities. Shoppers and consumers have come to expect the personalized services and rewards promised by these programs. Firms depend on their customer databases to deliver crucial insights that enable efficient and well-targeted marketing programs.

In light of the Epsilon event however, retail and hospitality CMOs and CCOs now face a new imperative. They must confront new questions like:

  • How is the consumer’s perception of our brand affected now that their information has been violated?
  • Is the value of our brand and customer equity negatively affected by a data breech? How bad is the damage?
  • Are we prepared to demonstrate our diligence to our customers and card holders by mobilizing rapid notification and protective actions?
  • What compensation can we provide to the consumer for their discomfort, angst, worry?
  • Can our forthright response turn a data breech into a service recovery opportunity so that we gain trust, not lose it?

In today’s world, the relevant question regarding data breeches is not “If?” but “When?” Set against the emerging legal backdrop of state and foreign regulations, this means loyalty and direct marketers must maintain a dynamic preparedness and response plan that can be instantly triggered in the event of a negative event. This is a capability few companies have today, but one that all should acquire.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser