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Target Pay; Sears tires; Ulta experience Robo Macs; Super Bowl LI: The BloomReach Relevance Report

Target takes aim at mobile pay market

Target store

Target is taking a page out of Kohl’s book and simplifying the process of separating shoppers from their money, Recode reports. (Did we really just use that page/book cliche?)

The mobile payment world is a swirl, with Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, CurrentC (is CurrentC still a thing?) and a host of others. But Target, like Kohl’s, is jumping in with its own thing for a particular stratum of customer — holders of Target’s Redcard.

Recode points out that some of the details of the Target scheme remain unknown. Will it be part of the popular Cartwheel app? Will it integrate coupons and Target offers?

One of the big selling points of Kohl’s program, called Kohl’s Pay, is that it tracks all the deals and promotions that a shopper is eligible for and calculates the price a shopper pays in one fell swoop — or swipe.

Kohl’s Ratnakar Lavu talked at the recent NRF Big Show about how Kohl’s is intrigued by Apple Pay, Android Pay and the like, but that there are complications with integrating promotions with third-party systems.

The store’s mobile payment program, which is available only to Kohl’s cardholders, is a raging success as it is, he added.

“The feedback is fantastic,” Lavu told Jason Del Rey, of Recode, from the conference stage. “We make it more seamless, compelling and engaging because we control the end-to-end experience.”

Yes, the program is currently targeted at the retailers’ best customers (those with the Kohl’s card). But Ratnakar is convinced that the enthusiasm will spread.

“I actually think it will turn our average customer into our best customer,” he said. “Our average customer will also learn about the benefits of it and we’re hoping that they will become the best customer.”

The key to this whole space-race-like rush to mobile payments is in something Lavu said — “control the end-to-end experience.” More than at any time before, retailers are turning their attention to the customer experience, both online and in-store. In fact, ideally, it’s all one experience.

While retailers are still interested in attracting new customers, they are gaining a deep appreciation for keeping the customers they have. Retaining customers, of course, is much cheaper than attracting a new one, something a business needs to do over and over if it’s not hanging on to the fans it has.

Sears continues to fight the good fight

Sears Store

Yes, Sears is struggling, but it’s not giving up. The retailer is looking to the future with experiments such as its deployment of artificial intelligence to help shoppers find the right tires and the right time and place to have them installed.

Retail Dive reports that the venerable department store has teamed up with IBM and Watson to offer a script to those shopping for tires. Those who choose to engage with the technology, will be asked a set of programmed questions to help get at which tires are right for them.

While the Sears program is a relatively limited application of the technology, it does point to the growing importance of machine learning in retail. As the Retail Dive piece says:

“AI capabilities such as machine learning and natural language generation and processing have tremendous potential to to bring quicker and more personalized service and response to just about any app that relies on conversation and customer interaction — which of course means just about any retail app you can think of.”

There are less flashy, but more comprehensive uses of artificial intelligence and natural language processing being used by many retailers, of course, though Retail Dive points out that many retailers have a ways to go to reach a point where they are taking full advantage of available technology.

It would seem that it’s only a matter of time before retailers pick up their AI game. After all, it appears that in retail, AI is where the rubber meets the road.

Sorry.

Ulta powers growth with unique experience and unique products

makeup

Ulta Beauty continues to kill it.

Its stock shot up nearly 40 percent in 2016, Bloomberg reports. It’s opening stores as others are closing them and its buzz is off the charts.

The cosmetics seller has taken what many say retailers must do — provide differentiated experiences and differentiated inventory — and executed nearly flawlessly to become the belle of the ball. (Come on. Not only corny, but borderline sexist.)

CEO Mary Dillon has purposefully made the store less “Amazon-able,” as Fortune put it, by stocking items that aren’t available at the online giant.

As important, as Bloomberg points out, Ulta has turned a trip to its stores into a happening. There are selfies (which shoppers can use to “try out” makeup) eyebrow tweezing, consultations and styling. So, why not make a day of it.

The Ulta story would seem to show that customer experience is not simply the latest shiny object for retailers to chase. Creating a memorable experience works.

We’re not making this up.

A real Big Mac attack

McDonald's Big Mac

OK,  we’re not proud of it, but there was a time that rarely a day went by that the BRRR didn’t indulge in a Big Mac. Yes, we lived to tell about it — and, through some effort, weaned ourselves from the fast-food treat.

And now this: McDonald’s is unleashing a Big Mac ATM that will cough up free Big Macs in return for an automated Twitter endorsement from the Big Mac eater, the Boston Globe reports.

We’re safe for now — and we know you’re glad to hear that — because the BM-ATM is all the way across the country from where we are. The cutting-edge, fast-food technology is rolling out in Boston’s Kenmore Square.

It will operate during lunch-time hours and it’s not an experiment to see whether McDonald’s can get rid of all the pesky people it takes to run the world’s largest peddler of hamburgers.

Micky D’s officials say getting the machine out there is a marketing ploy. No! And in fact the Big Macs it will dispense aren’t regular, old Big Macs, but all-new items called Mac Jr. and Grand Mac. (The Mac Jr. sounds suspiciously small. We’d go with the Grand Mac, which sounds suspiciously large.)

Anyway, to stick with our customer experience theme, the technology strikes us as an attempt to create a unique customer experience while also getting rid of some of the pesky people it takes to run a restaurant.

As the Globe points out, other food service outfits have turned to automation — something called Eatsa of San Francisco takes orders on iPads and delivers food to a cubby that a diner picks up without dealing with humans.

And the BRRR has to say it’s been tempted to try a nearby pizza place where the pies are made by robots. Pie in the sky? Maybe

By the way, any idea what to tip a robot?

The cost of Super Sunday just went down

If you’re sitting in front of the TV for Super Bowl LI rather than heading to Houston for the high holy day of U.S. sports, consider yourself lucky.

The SB will cost you only $75, the National Retail Federation says. Going to the game? Well, tickets are selling for an average of nearly $5,000 on the — ahem — secondary market, according to CBS.

Take that extra $4,925 and get yourself something pretty.

The NRF says total SBLI spending will be $14.1 billion, which is a lot of dough, but not as much as last year, when retailers raked in $15.5 billion on the big day.

Chart showing 10 years of Super Bowl spending by consumers. Source: NRF

(Source: The National Retail Federation)

The federation did not speculate on the reason for the decline. About as many people as last year were expected to watch the game — 188.9 million. So, that’s not it. Food prices are likely to be a little higher this year, which of course doesn’t explain a drop in spending.

Maybe it’s the match-up: New England Patriots vs. the Atlanta Falcons this year; Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers in 2016.

Whatever the reason, the NRF had a bunch of cool statistics beyond the spending figures as a result of a survey it conducted with Prosper Insights & Analytics. A sampling:

  • Of the 76 percent of those surveyed who said they’d watch the game, 80 percent said they’d be buying food and drink for it.
  • Based on the survey, 11 percent will be buying team gear and 8 percent will be buying new TVs. Good excuse as any, we guess.
  • Forty-five percent of those polled said they’d host a party, which, when you think about, leaves the other 55 percent available to attend Super Bowl parties.
  • When it comes to why people watch, 43 percent say they like the game itself; 24 percent watch for the commericals; 15 percent just want to hang out with friends; 12 percent want to see the halftime show and 6 percent apparently forgot what the question was.

Quote of the week

“This is just another cog in the supply chain that they’re putting under their control, as well as creating new revenue streams.”John Haber, CEO of Spend Management Experts, to the Wall Street Journal regarding Amazon taking a bigger role in trans-Pacific shipments.

Photo of Target by Mike Cassidy; photo of Sears store courtesy of Sears; photo of makeup by Emily Cox published under Creative Commons license; photo of Big Mac courtesy of McDonald’s. 

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.