October 11, 2011, 11:04 AM

Mobile Commerce Forum Report: Coupons pick up speed as a mobile marketing strategy

Michaels Stores has an iPhone app that allows shoppers to receive coupons and offers.

Lead Photo

Chris Hershberger speaking at the Mobile Commerce Forum.

For merchants, going mobile is about more than simply making cell phones or Pads another point of purchase—it’s an opportunity to interact with and influence customers at every stage of the purchase process, Dave Gill, vice president of client services for The Nielsen Co., told the Mobile Commerce Forum in Houston. Michaels Stores Inc. has taken that insight and created a mobile strategy that focuses on the pre-purchase stage with coupons delivered to customers by text.

Though Michaels sells online, the craft store chain also wants to get shoppers in the door to be inspired by the craft projects and materials on display, Chris Hershberger, manager, marketing technology at Michaels, told attendees. “We want to come up with creative ideas that drive traffic into our brick-and-mortar stores,” he said.

Discount coupons help achieve that. Michaels has an iPhone app that allows shoppers to receive coupons and offers, and the retailer expects to launch an Android app this week, Hershberger said. Mobile is providing  an important alternate means of coupon distribution for Michael’s and other large chains that have traditionally  used newspapers  for that purpose as more consumers turn toward digital media and away from print, he said.

“Coupons on the handset are gaining traction,” he said.  Data from Nielsen, a market research company, show that in the second quarter of this year 17% of mobile phone users surveyed said they had downloaded a voucher or coupon on their mobile device, Gill said, compared to 34% who made a purchase using a mobile device. Michael’s chose to enter mobile couponing with text messaging rather than displaying QR codes that shoppers could scan in store because of consumers’ greater familiarity with text messages, Hershberger said.

He also offered other insights from Michael’s experience for merchants developing or refining mobile coupon strategies. For multichannel merchants such as Michaels, “It takes a lot of planning to lay out a good coupon strategy,” he said.  “You don’t want to push the same offer out on a mobile handset that you put in the newspaper. With mobile, be more personalized in the offers–you don’t want to ‘spray and pray.’”

Hershberger noted that unique mobile coupon offers, different from those Michaels runs in newspapers, drive consumers to the retailer’s mobile app. “Knowing the offers will change is one of the primary reasons people go to the app,” he said.

Merchants need to educate themselves on the mobile landscape before implementing a mobile coupon strategy, he added.  “Know the different devices and operating systems.  Learn about QR (quick response) codes versus SMS (short message service text messages). Develop a knowledge base before you go out there and conquer,” he said.

Consumers’ location and the time of day also provide important context for mobile couponing, he added. “You don’t want to send out text messages at 5:00 a.m. before people have had a cup of coffee,” he said.        

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