Monday, August 23, 2010

ShopAlerts and Shopkick - Two Different Approaches to LBS

We've all heard the business plans for Starbucks rewards being broadcast to your mobile device just as you pass by. Apparently that's just something that sounds nice but doesn't translate to reality. If it did, then certainly Starbucks would have already done it by now.

It's refreshing to see new ideas emerging that represent the next step in monetizing Location-Based Services (LBS). Startups like Placecast and Shopkick exemplify two different approaches to the same opportunity.

Placecast got some press last spring with the announcement of their ShopAlerts program. In a nut shell, consumers who enroll in this program receive text messages from their favorite brand whenever they are physically near a retail outlet, or other location of interest.

The ShopAlerts technology uses "geo-fences" that are boundaries of a certain radius as defined by the marketer. Any consumer who has opt-ed in to this program receives a text message as soon as they cross this virtual boundary. The idea is to take advantage of people's likelihood to respond to a call to action requiring in-store participation through things like special offer alerts or other types of notifications.

The nice thing about ShopAlerts is that it will only send a maximum of 3 messages within a given week from a retailer. And, of course, to comply with SMS marketing regulations, consumers can opt-out at any time simply by texting "STOP" back to a short code.

Shopkick takes a different approach. Instead of using cell towers to triangulate the consumer with text-messaging as the vehicle of communication, Shopkick relies on in-store broadcast devices and a mobile device app.

When you walk in to a Shopkick-enabled store and your app is running, your mobile device will pick up a high frequency signal from the device and record your presence in the store. Once it's recorded, you get awarded points, or "kickbucks", which are redeemable for in-store discounts or even cross-brand promotions (e.g. Facebook Credits).

The approach that ShopKick is taking is that there is a distinct value to a person physically in-store versus a person physically "near" a store. This is especially helpful for physical locations where cell tower triangulation is not possible or certainly not as accurate at identifying a person's precise location within the store.

I applaud both Placecast and Shopkick for continuing to innovate in the field of LBS marketing. I don't see them as competing but rather as complementing simply because their approaches are founded upon different assumptions.

In the Placecast model, ShopAlerts is like the sideshow barker, whose job it was to grab your attention as you were walking by, and get you to do something that you originally weren't planning on doing.

In the Shopkick model, the consumer is specifically going to the retail outlet either in direct response to a prior call to action or just because there is a totally unrelated need to go there.

Personally, I'm less likely to respond to the ShopAlerts model and more likely to respond to the ShopKick model. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, when I'm out of the house, I'm usually going from Point A to Point B - fast. I'm not interested in detours to my flight plan. On the other hand, I like BestBuy (one of the brands piloting ShopKick). I shop there quite frequently 'cause I like shiny things with little blinky lights. As long as I'm already there, it's nice to be rewarded.

I'm thinking that Shopkick is good for brands whose own online marketing efforts still relies heavily on in-store conversions. For example, Hot Topic is a clothing retailer whose prime market is the 14-18 year old. Hot Topic has a strong online presence with not only its branded web site, but also its Facebook page with almost a million followers. The catch is that 14 year olds aren't old enough to have a credit card, so calls to action for online purchases are not very effective. As a result, almost all of their promotions - online and email - are designed to drive in-store traffic. So for this brand, awarding Kickbucks to their online followers that are redeemable in-store at Shopkick-enabled outlets could be a resonator with this audience.

So...are any of you subscribing to either ShopAlerts or ShopKick? I'm unfortunately not living in an area where either of these two services are being tested, so I can't comment on my personal experiences. But if any of you are, I'd love to read your comments.

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