Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meet your potential customer

I'll be blogging today from Consumer Insights & Engagement, a conference presented by the parent company of and Restaurant Business, CSP Information Group. The content is skewed toward convenience stores, the audience of our sister publication, CSP. But the consumer is the consumer, whether he or she is buying an Egg McMuffin or a breakfast sandwich at a QwikStop.

The best way to follow the thread will likely be from the bottom up.

1:50:A retailer in the audience has asked what seem to be key questions for merchants interested in mobile payment: Will they need to upgrade their technology, and what happens if the system goes out? How could they charge if a mobile wallet isn't transmitting?

The plan, according to Isis, is to issue a companion card that mobile wallet users could wield to charge in an old fashioned way.

The Google representative pointed out that mobile wallets would be an alternative to credit cards, not a replacement. People will still carry traditional magnetic stripe cards.

Neither really responded to the question about tech upgrades.

1:25: The speakers are talking about the security and privacy aspects of using mobile wallets. They've stressed that effective safeguards are in place, but that consumers need to be educated. There's agreement that customers need to see mobile payment as the next evolution, not some scary, radical development.

12:55: A Google specialist on mobile commerce is explaining the rationale behind the tech giant's new mobile payment system, Google Wallet.

One of the main drivers, according to Serge Kassardjian: The payment process "is not optimized." Translation: It's a boring pain.

The objective is making the payment process a lot more fun and thereby strengthening the tie with the customer, Kassardjian explains.

"Why are we doing this?" asks Kassardjian, noting that Google is not taking a commission on transactions right now. One of the attractions, he said, is delivering extremely effective ads to targeted users.

!2:45 p.m.: The afternoon session of the conference is opening with a panel discussion of the mobile payment phenomenon. It's not about transactions, says Isis' Tony Sabetti, it's about a new way of communicating with consumers.

Isis is a "mobile wallet" payment system that's being created as a joint venture of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Once the system is up and running, the app will replace most of the cards in a consumer's wallet, from credit card to frequent-customer cards.

The whole idea is to combine multiple accounts into one payment system, says Sabetti. The process is attractive to consumers because it simplifies their lives.

For retailers, one of the benefits is having a new channel for reaching customers. Special offers or pitches can be delivered to them via phone, for instant redemption at the point of purchase.

9:00: Sansolo just asked how many chains in the audience have a tattoo or piercing policy. Once, any retail business blanched at the thought of having an employee with a visible tattoo. Now, tattoos are mainstream. They just need to be tasteful, in the eyes of many service businesses.

8:55:A prime illustration of the "generational divide," points out Sansolo, are the differences evident in musical tastes. The Black Eyed Peas were hailed as the best Super Bowl halftime act ever--by Gen Y-ers. Anyone above 45 abhorred them, Sansolo noted.

"What music do we play in our stores?" he asked.

8:45 a.m.:Speaker Michael Sansolo is talking about the challenges about understanding the various generations--plural--that compose today's retail clientele. He pointed out that conventional wisdom called for focusing on one generation at a time. You take a bead on, say, Baby Boomers, then switch at some point to Gen X-ers, etc. Today, he notes, there's a hodgepodge of generations, all very different, all with their own hot points, all in need of being addressed.

For instance, he asked how many of the Millennials in the audience used a watch. There were several who did not. Sansolo explained that Gen Y-ers use their smart phones to tell the time.

"The chasm that exists today is wider because it's technologically enhanced," said Sansolo. "This generational divide fueled by technology is getting wider and wider."

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