NRF Bulletin: Personalization Done Right

Lewis and McVie at NRF

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

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

Movin’ On Up

TENSER’S TIRADES HAS RELOCATED to this much finer neighborhood following a dispute with the old landlord.

You’ll find the entire blog (past and present) here, along with some useful new features.

If you subscribe to our RSS feed, you can update it using the link you will find at right.

Jamie Tenser

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

The Incredible Dissolving Store

Shopper CentricI WAS ASKED RECENTLY to address a group of consumer products managers about the possible future of Category Management.

The request came at a time when I had been devoting serious thinking to several topics that at first seemed only tenuously related. Computer-generated ordering is one. Optimization of markdowns is another. The impact of social, mobile and local media is a third. Then there was this trendy concept — Big Data — that keeps getting lots of mentions, but seems to defy clear understanding.

So what was I to make of Category Management in a world where these disparate forces swirl? More importantly, what practical insights could I deliver to this audience of the best and brightest that CPG companies had on their brand and account teams? I probably couldn’t tell them much they didn’t already know. Maybe I could try to make their heads explode instead.

Thought Experiment
I challenged this audience with the following thought experiment: Try to visualize what life could be like for Category Management professionals in a world with vastly more information and a good deal less control.

The diagram accompanying this post identifies ten factors or sources of input that a Category Manager of the future might incorporate into planning decisions. Many are already familiar — optimization of assortment, price, promotion and markdowns are well-established techniques built into software suites like those from IBM DemandTec. Other vendors offer macro space planning solutions, automated replenishment, capacity planning, In-Store Implementation and competitive analytics. These factors all interact in a dizzying matrix. But wait! There’s more!

Now fold in the massive influence of social/mobile/local media and online shopping and search behaviors, which are manifest as Big Data. We are witness to the vanishing boundaries of the in-store environment, due to the advent of personal digital technology, changing consumer habits, omni-channel business models and the immense flows of unstructured and structured data that these are creating for Shopper Marketers. I call this The Incredible Dissolving Store.

Big Data postulates that we will soon be routinely mining these external data flows for relevant behavioral insights and applying those insights on a continuous basis to enable shopper success and sustain meaningful competitive advantage.

Mix Mastery
It’s kind of like the marketing mix management problem. Heck, in many ways it’s a core part of the marketing mix problem. Shopper success — and therefore, the success of our category and promotional plans — are influenced by all these factors. Simultaneously. Continuously.

The increasing intricacy of the merchandising decision process reflects the proliferation of intersecting, measurable and optimize-able factors within the store. All these new data-based influences mean the locus of power is rapidly leaving the store and distributing across your customers’ mobile devices. The shopper is always in the center — no matter where you go, there they are.

It becomes increasingly apparent that Category Management in the Incredible Dissolving Store will not be about solving the equation — it will be about tuning the system. New analytics tools make the keys to relevance more accessible and more automated than ever. The life cycle of your decisions, shorter than ever. The power resides in the network and in the hands of individual shoppers.

Category Management, like it or not, is rapidly shifting from an orderly, controlled, recursive, planning process with boundaries and well-defined metrics into a deliberately dis-orderly, multidimensional, broad, shape-shifting and organic process that incorporates planning, detection, response and continuous strategic reconsideration.

In the Incredible Dissolving Store, we need to get used to the kind of ongoing discomfort this implies and think very carefully about the metrics we use to define success. If we listen actively and shed our bias, the shoppers will tell us what those must be.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser