Mobile "check-ins are dead"

01 Jul 2011  |  Liz Jaques 
Nick White at Retail and Media 2011

"Check-ins are dead - it's hard for the consumers," according to Harriet Williams, head of digital development at Debenhams.

Speaking at MediaTel's invite-only Retail and Media event on Wednesday, in association with O2, Williams said it is early days for Debenhams in terms of creating location-based mobile services. The company is currently trialling Facebook Deals and apps such as Vouchercloud.

"It is important to think about your objective and what you're trying to do," she said. "Facebook Deals can go viral but it's not seamless."

Shaun Gregory, managing director at O2 Media, referenced Starbucks as the best known example of a brand "doing location well", but said that O2 has been running a similar trial with L'Oreal and beauty products. Starbucks and O2 joined forces to test location-based messaging, which fences off geographic zones and pushes SMS discounts to O2 customers who enter those areas.

Starbucks has been offering customers 50% off discounts - delivered by text messages and redeemable at nearby stores. They are only pushed to people who have expressed an interest in food and beverages.

Gregory said "brands are getting clever now and thinking ahead" - and added that he wants the O2 solution to drive sales and incremental value. "We want it to be a seamless experience with no check-ins required." At the moment, O2 customers have to opt-in to the O2 More programme and share their interests to receive offers, which are limited to one text a day.

Williams said location is one of the unique services that mobile has to offer, but she emphasised the importance of getting customers to opt-in to avoid being intrusive. At the moment, Debenhams are "using SMS sparingly".

From the audience, Fiona Kyle, general manager brand alliance at Westfield, explained that the shopping centre's "aspiration is to offer a personalised journey so that shoppers will be able to reserve a table, book a treatment, navigate their way around and so on... We want to make their experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible," she said, but she recognised that this was a sensitive issue - and that customers would literally turn off if their shopping experience involved a stream of messages from various parties.

Nick White (pictured), head of e-commerce at Waitrose, agreed that there is potential for a series of confusing relationships with the consumer at a number of levels - a John Lewis card-holder, who is an O2 customer, but is shopping at a Westfields mall. Who does the customer want to or expect to hear from?

Claire Valoti, head of display & mobile at Mindshare said Westfield has a CRM role - "it can offer a different approach to retailers, which are the point of sale. It already has a dialogue with customers through its website". While Gregory said location-based services offer an opportunity to talk to customers, "which they will welcome if it adds value to their experience... and if their experience is good, they will come back," he said.

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