June 18, 2013, 3:40 PM

Liquidation retailer lures young buyers via mobile marketing

Working with CopiaMobile, it lets shoppers wave their phone at a screen for offers.

National Wholesale Liquidators, a discount retail chain of 12 stores that emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, is forging ahead in a comeback strategy that’s using mobile marketing technology from CopiaMobile Inc. to bring more mobile-connected shoppers into its stores, says Drew Bickel, director of planning, allocation, distribution and special projects.

“We’re making it cool to come into our stores,” he says. In addition to mobile text-message offers tied to a customer’s demographics and shopping interests, the retailer’s new mobile marketing strategy includes in-store digital signs that registered shoppers can wave their mobile phone at to receive offers.

The digital signs also serve to recruit customers who have yet to opt in to receive mobile offers. The screens typically display moving images of the retailer’s weekly product ads. When a customer approaches the screen to view the images, a video camera mounted in the screen scans the customer’s image for gender and age, then changes the screen image to present for about 20 seconds an offer based on his or her characteristics. A young male, for example, might receive an offer for a popular men’s deodorant and a shirt; to redeem the offer, he enters his mobile number to opt in to receive text messages.

The digital signs use software hosted on the Internet by CopiaMobile, which processes information on customers’ images and mobile phone numbers to determine which offers to either display on a screen or send to a customer’s phone. The retailer provides CopiaMobile with sales transaction data, including which items are often purchased together to assist in making cross-selling offers for complementary products.

National Wholesale Liquidators has so far installed the digital screens in seven of its stores. Bickel says it’s too soon to say how many customers are signing up for text messages through the screens. The retailer also runs print and online ads with invitations to text for a special offer when opting in for text messaging, such as $5 off a purchase of $25. It also conducts sweepstakes at public events like ballgames, encouraging spectators to text to enter a contest for a free TV in return for opting in to receiving text marketing messages.

Among the 250,000 consumers who visit its stores weekly, 50,000 have opted into receiving text messages, Bickel says. The mobile marketing program has helped the retailer to increase shopping by its customers across its product lines, such as when a regular shopper of health and beauty aids receives mobile text offers for those products along with offers for garden supplies and apparel, he says. Those receiving text message offers have an average order value of about $45 for about eight or nine products, compared to other shoppers’ average order value of $25 for about six items, he adds.

The retailer generally sends two marketing text messages per week, such as last week’s offer for a free barbecue set and $5 off any cooler in a store.

With its expanded customer base and increase in shopping across product categories, the retailer has increased its sales per store by about a third, to about $13.3 million per store from $10.0 million in 2008., Bickel says. In the past, he notes, West Hempstead, NY-based National Wholesale Liquidators operated 50 stores with a total of $500 million sales. “This year, with 10 mass merchant stores and two fresh produce stores, we’ll do north of $160 million.”

Scottsdale, AZ-based CopiaMobile charges monthly fees starting at about $10,000, according to Larry Negrich, vice president of marketing. The company, founded in 2010, is funded by its co-founder and CEO Robert Alpert, a former chairman and CEO of Land ‘N’ Sea Corp., a distributor of boating parts and equipment that was sold in 2004 to Brunswick Corp. The company’s other two co-founders are chairman Scott Hines, a former senior executive at e-commerce technology company Vcommerce and chief technology officer at retail operations software company JDA Software Group Inc.; and chief operating officer Michael Chadwick, former vice president of technology at Internet hosting services company GoDaddy.com.

Vcommerce’s assets were acquired in 2009 by Channel Intelligence Inc., which was acquired by Google Inc. earlier this year.

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