Consumer • Digital • Growth

Add a dash of tech to retail loyalty

One of the better known hypermarkets is aggressively advertising its new partnership with a loyalty programme. It’s also offering bonus rewards. It seems a very attractive scheme and I wanted to know what sort of impact this had made on customers.

So, last Friday I decided to visit one of these stores in Pune. There weren’t many shoppers and the staff was hanging around in groups. The items on my list were hard to find. I approached one of the groups and asked for help. Very reluctantly, they broke apart and obliged.

When I was finally done with my shopping, I overheard a discussion at the neighbouring checkout counter. The customer there was flashing a loyalty card asking for points to be credited to his account as well as a promised discount on shopping over Rs500. His request was turned down by the cashier and he seemed quite upset. If the store had been full, there would have been quite a few impatient shoppers behind him!

I turned to the customer and asked him how he got that card. It turns out that he signed up for the loyalty programme at his office and was very clear he was at this store only because of it. I later found out that the card wasn’t actually meant for this particular chain of hypermarkets! Maybe, the loyalty card and the aggressive promotions really are working.

It isn’t just loyalty cards that hold up queues. Payment by vouchers plays its part too. I’ve noticed families shopping with a packet of meal vouchers and since these vouchers are normally in small denominations, it can take ages to settle a bill, irritating others. It seems these shoppers come to these stores only to redeem vouchers.

And because of them, otherwise loyal shoppers are forced to wait longer. I’ve always felt that a simple solution to this could be having a separate billing counter for payment through meal vouchers. And then there’s the sheer number of these vouchers. I always wonder how these huge volumes are physically handled at the back end and then taken for settlement. With the growth of services industry, the usage of meal vouchers will continue to grow.

But does this mean that the wait at cash counters of modern retail will increase? Technology will start playing an active role in addressing such issues. Earning loyalty rewards could be a basic shopping benefit across all brands. As for meal and gift vouchers, these could well be made available on cellphones. Once on mobiles, redemption of vouchers becomes quicker and easier. It will also prove to be a much better shopping experience for others in queue.

Electronic settlement will even help retailers get their claims not only efficiently but accurately. India should lead by example here, which saw a mobile revolution much before the organised retail. The time is ripe for retailers to embrace such applications.

From a series of articles commissioned by DNA (Money) dated 23 May 2012.


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