People Systems vs. Technology Systems

by Net Future Institute on July 26, 2012

When it comes to mobile price-checking, there are two systems that need to be in place. One deals with technology and the other involves people.

This came to light again earlier this week during a shopping trip to Staples.

The retailer has become quite efficient at mobile price-matching, with checkout personnel actually knowing what they’re supposed to look for on the customer’s screen. However, when multiple elements are mixed in with in-store scanning and price matching — not to mention customer service — the results can prove tricky.

For example, HP is running a promotion with Staples for customers to receive a free comparable ink cartridge for every two purchased, labeled in an email campaign as “buy two, get one free.” They have an additional coupon to save $20 on a purchase of $100 or more on ink cartridges of any brand. To complicate matters further, as a Staples Rewards member, I also had coupons within my app from past purchases.

Among other things, I selected two sets of different ink cartridges — one set of two at $39 each and the other at $28 — to pass the $100 threshold. So far, no problem. Just before checkout, I used my ShopSavvy app to scan the cartridges and found them to be several dollars each cheaper at another store. It was an online site, although a store with a physical presence. The checkout technology would allow either the discount of the price match or the three-for-the-price-of-two deal, but not both. However, the fine print on the ad says “not valid with any other offer,” so we made the point that a price match was not another offer — just a different price.

After about 20 minutes of the store manager and sales associate battling the POS system, they figured how to provide the two discounts. But when entering my rewards number, the entire transaction went back to original pricing and they had to start all over again. The helpful duo at Staples persevered and ultimately did figure how to provide all the discounts, including the price match and the HP deal. The point is that the people system made it work, to the advantage of the customer.

As more customers turn to real-time mobile information, such as in-store price comparisons, and combine that information with traditional marketing offers like coupons and online deals, retailers will be faced with more — not fewer — integration challenges.

“Staples is always looking for ways to make things easier for our customers, and that includes providing the best cross-channel shopping experience,” says Prat Vemana, director, Mobile and eCommerce Acceleration at Staples. “We know that more and more customers are turning to their mobile devices to do research as well as to make sure they’re using their Staples Rewards,” says Vemana.

It is this cross-channel challenge that both the people and technology systems at many companies face. The short-term approach is likely the workaround, as executed by the checkout team at Staples. The longer-term solution is to create more integration of programs into the mobile mix, factoring in the issue of on-location price-matching.

But rather than hardening the technology to decrease customer-facing workarounds, IT leaders now have the opportunity to view and measure how the people systems are actually making things work on location. Retailers worried about showrooming, where customers shop their stores and then buy elsewhere via mobile, might take a lesson from the people system. Brick-and-mortar retailers who follow their traditional, rigid rules of deals and don’t leverage in-store, mobile price-matching customers, have the unenviable opportunity to become their geography’s showrooming headquarters.

Interestingly, I called Staples’ national order number and after 26 minutes of discussion I was transferred to the supervisor of the call center, who said they could either price-match or provide the HP deal, but in no case could they do both. Those are the rules. They were basing their response on the technology system, while the store employees on location based their response on the customer in the store.

Although lowering the price of a few select products matched by mobile app, the store also sold an additional bag full of office supplies, including Staples brand products that could not be price-matched.

The call center sold nothing.




Chuck Martin is author of The Third Screen; Marketing to Your Customers in a World Gone Mobile, The Smartphone Handbook, CEO of Mobile Future Institute, Director of the Center for Media Research at MediaPost Communications and ahighly sought-after mobile marketing speaker.


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