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Gartner: 3 Ways Retailers Are Bridging Online and Offline Commerce Experiences


Over 30,000 people converged on NYC for NRF to learn the latest retail trends. One of biggest takeaways was that NRF now looks a lot like Digital technology is no longer a side dish, it’s the main entrée, with retailers lining up to hear about mobile marketing technology designed to identify, attract and engage customers before they even enter the store and digital commerce platforms that integrate with their ERP technology infrastructure and their digital marketing technology stack to support the full lifecycle of retail marketing across online and offline channels—store, Web, mobile  and social networks.

The biggest takeaway from 2015 NRF was the share of mind (and Expo floor space) that retailers and technology service providers dedicated to digital technology that bridges the online and offline worlds. It appears retailers have learned that it’s no longer about funneling customer down a particular path, or even failed attempts to predict which path a consumer might follow. Today’s digital commerce experience—and even the in-store experience is becoming a digital commerce experience—is about enabling a customer-led commerce experience with meaningful connections between channels.

Text Message Marketing, Retail marketing, retail text marketing, Text Coupons, retail grocery, True Dialog

3 Ways Retailers are Bridging the Gap


Digitizing the in-store environment.

The Rebecca Minkoff store in SoHo and in the eBay booth at the NRF Expo features digital displays in its fitting rooms and RFID tags on all of its merchandise, allowing the display to sense what items shoppers have in the room, show how items pair together and enable shoppers to request additional colors, sizes and pieces and have them brought to the fitting room. No more awkwardly traipsing around the store in your socks or trying to flag a salesperson. In addition to improving the in-store (and in-fitting room) environment, the store also lets shoppers to save their fitting room session by choosing to send themselves an SMS and retrieve the session later on the retailer’s website.


Turning mobile associates into front-line marketers.

Integration of CRM and loyalty data and proliferation of clienteling tools on associates’ smartphones and tablets could bring this technique from luxury shoppers to the masses. Retailers can arm associates with customer data from CRM systems and loyalty programs, and info customers provide during their store visit, to tailor in-store interaction and maintain engagement after the visit. To avoid the creepy-factor, customers have to opt-in to this and brand marketing can control what info employees can see, as well as what content they can send. This allows front-line employees to become marketers and ambassadors. It may not work for all retailers due to the level of training and interaction involved, but you don’t have to shop the high-rent district to get a personal touch.


Connecting mobile consumers’ devices to drive traffic and conversion.

The bridge between online and offline can be figurative, as well as literal. Major mobile network providers are in a race to turn your car into a mobile device. But this isn’t just about helping you stay connected to friends and family, check your email or update your Facebook status. This is also about using mobile location data to make relevant recommendations—nearby restaurants, stores, and even gas stations based on your location (and the position of your fuel gauge). Seems sort of futuristic, but imagine the ability to drive literal traffic to your store or restaurant by informing nearby customers about your promotions or gas prices.


*This article was originally published on the Gartner Blog by Jennifer Polk


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Restaurants Are an Unpredictable Business

The hurdles you must jump to achieve success are broad and overwhelming at times. From the local restaurant competition to reputation, customer service to food quality, and even the weather. Getting customers through the door of your restaurant is one of the challenges you face – not to mention return customers and developing loyalty.  So how can you compete when your budget is planned around just running the business, and not marketing it? One of the most affordable choices you have is SMS (text message marketing).


3 Keys to Success for Restaurants to Use SMS

On a regular basis, a restaurant owner is likely to be thinking about at least one of these business issues: increasing revenue, reducing costs and improving the company operations and culture. SMS (text messages) can be used to support these restaurant business issues.


1.Loyalty and Promotions

The first step is gaining SMS subscribers through texting in or a web form*. In-store promotions are often the most effective means of driving customers to opt-in and join your SMS Loyalty program.

Print posters, window stickers, table tents – or whatever else you usually have out in the restaurant to communicate with customers – and include a short code (shortened phone number) and keyword with a tempting incentive. A&W Restaurants chose to offer a Free Burger, with some clever stipulations attached to prevent abuse or fraud.

Once a customer has join your SMS loyalty or rewards program, you can do several things to drive further revenue. Ask some questions about food preferences. Send limited time special offers, holiday discounts, and promote your existing offers like happy hour. Announce events, such as live music or special football game watching parties.

>Keep in mind the frequency of messages – sending too many can cause customers to opt-out and possibly be turned off by the over-communication.

>Ask questions that you can use to send targeted text messages later. For example, ask about the kinds of updates the customer wants to receive – special offers, events, new menu items, or all of it.

A&W Restaurants, Text Marketing, Text Message Coupons, Text CRM, Case Study

2. Feedback

The old method of collecting feedback on a printed card or receipt has been replaced with a website link, but that is not always so simple. What happens when the customer loses the receipt or just forgets to complete the survey?

SMS addresses the immediacy issue. Being able to text in and reply to a few questions within a few minutes (often while still in the restaurant) will increase your response rates. You can ask the questions completely through texting or send the customer to a mobile website with the feedback survey. And if you are asking the right questions, then you may be able to reduce costs on broken procedures or unpopular menu items.


3. Internal Operations

When it isn’t food or atmosphere being improved, the restaurant staff and their procedures are the next most important to be worked on. Improving restaurant operations and communications allows business owners to reduce costs and improve the culture of the business. This ranges from hiring employees to managing deliveries, internal communications to optimizing menu mix, and improving the overall dining experience.

“Employees use messaging to broadcast alerts, such as when a toxic spill occurs on the worksite or information technology systems are down. Employees text to schedule last-minute meetings or announce date and time changes of events. Employees working off site can give a supervisor or co-worker instant updates on a remote project. And an employee can send a critical message to a supervisor who’s tied up in a meeting without disruption.” (Houston Chronicle)


When restaurants use SMS in the right context, they create a more attractive situation for customers to participate. Customers can derive more value from the instant and accessible channel of SMS, which will often drive them to return to a restaurant.

How is your restaurant using SMS text messaging to grow and retain customers? What mobile marketing strategies have worked best for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


*Be aware of SMS compliance rules about opt-ins


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Texting for Public Health Communications


While the Ebola outbreak has been a wild media storm in the US, it has been a harsh reality in Africa. Aid workers in Liberia have begun using text messaging to alert specific populations. “Workers with the United Nations Children’s Fund sent texts to a group of Monrovia teenagers telling them how to sign up for Ebola alerts.” (Chicago Tribune).  It has become a two-way channel for health communications where those teens can reply back with questions about avoiding the virus and ways to prevent sickness.


“Since the Ebola outbreak began last April, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) system has sent out about 2 million text messages a month in Sierra Leone, reminding people to seek treatment early, avoid physical contact with others and not resist the efforts of community health care workers.” (NPR).

This is key in areas of the world where internet is not available everywhere, especially in Sierra Leone where 60% of the population lives below the national poverty line.


While literacy rates in countries like Sierra Leone are quite low (about 43%), it is likely for a few people to have cellphones in villages who can read the text messages and disseminate the information to others.

“Ivory Coast, richer still than Nigeria and so far Ebola-free, is capitalizing on the mobile connectivity of its citizens by sending out millions of mass text messages warning about the dangers of Ebola and how to avoid catching it. Smartphone penetration is still low in Africa relative to the rest of the world—in Ivory Coast around 25% of all mobile phones are smartphones, while 90% of households have access to a mobile phone.” (Wall Street Journal).


Mobile Apps Help Gather Information


In addition to these text alerts, mobile apps have been used for reporting Ebola cases and used as a resource for safety information.  Scientists and developers all over the world are working hard to track and even predict the patterns of the Ebola virus.  If you have not already heard about Flowminder, then you should search it. Flowminder is the organization from MIT that has created national mobility estimates for West Africa, and they have delivered population mobility maps derived from anonimized mobile phone call detail record (CDR) datasets – see the image below to get an idea.

health communications, text messages, SMS,

“For us in Africa, connectivity is a life and death issue.”

(A resident of Ivory Coast)

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Making Your Operations More Efficient Work with Mobile

The mini computer in your pocket (smartphone) can help your employees to work faster and be productive while on-the-go.  This is a leap in our technical capabilities from 5 or 10 years ago, but how can you leverage this development for the operations of your company?


A company that specializes in improving their clients’ operations has a project that requires them to identify and match mobile devices using their software and text messaging. The result of this project is common end-user inventory (aka – who has what mobile phone, where, and does he or she still work for your company?).  More Efficient with Mobile , Mobile device management

Through the use of a text messaging platform and integrated web forms, this client can easily attack this project head-on. Any devices currently part of their inventory will be identified by sending a text or email with dynamic messaging (personalization) to the end user.  Both the text and the email will include unique links that pre-populate the web forms based on contact information entered into the company’s platform.


What are other ways that you can make your company work more efficiently using mobile tools?


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How Mobile Devices Are Improving the Insurance Experience

The affordable care act has opened new channels for sales as well as new challenges for insurance companies. With more one-to-one customer sales on the rise, insurance companies are working hard to be as efficient as possible. In tandem, insurance companies are expected to be more transparent with the end customer. Technology is pervading the healthcare system already, so customer (patients) expect their health insurance companies to be agile in how they communicate key information.

We already know that many patients are looking to track and monitor their health through their mobile devices, so why should tracking the cost of that care be any different?  mhealth, health insurance, text messaging, HIPPA compliantThe number of people using health related mobile apps is pretty low (somewhere between 32-38% of the US). However, text message updates have continued to rise and steadily grow as a useful tool for improving the experience. Ranging from pharmacy refills to appointment reminders, and even more personalized messages from the doctor.



Use Case: Blue Cross Integrates Behavioral Health

“Behavioral healthcare is an area that causes a lot of additional expenditures on the medical side,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director for behavioral health at BCBSMA. (from Behavioral Healthcare)

In response to this issue, BCBSMA has created a mobile and online platform (OneHealth).  “It has a social media construct where individuals with addiction vulnerabilities can select who they can communicate with. Members can only participate in the online and mobile platform when referred to by a provider or the plan itself.” One of the key tools leverages text messaging for your support system. An individual can send a text message to three people if he or she needs support during time periods of potential relapse.

One of the aims of this new platform (other than the obvious help and support that it offers to patients) is the reduction of unnecessary emergency room visits and testing that can be highly expensive. Mental health is a key area where health insurance companies can provide tools such as this to reduce costs and better serve their customers.



Before You Find a Text Message Provider,

Be Aware of HIPAA Secure Messaging Guidelines

HIPAA text messaging software was introduced in 2013. These updated guidelines affect how PHI (protected health information) is stored, accessed and transmitted. It also requires that the software has specific features in place.

Key HIPPA Compliant Features:

    • It must be administered from a central point which protects PHI from unauthorized access.
    • Risk assessments should be conducted regularly to ensure that messaging is secure and compliant.
    • All PHI stored within the text message software should be encrypted in order to make it “indecipherable, unreadable or unusable” in case of unauthorized access.
    • It should not enable healthcare professionals or sub-contractors to maintain PHI on their personal mobile device memories.
    • The device can be removed from the system in the event of a mobile device being lost or stolen.


To learn more about Health Care Initiatives Using Text Messaging, visit

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Loyalty Programs

Loyalty is your number one focus. You just want to keep your customers happy, so you offer a deal based on the frequency of each loyal customer’s visits. That is a great offering to your customers, but what is really in it for you? The incentive of a “free” this or “complimentary” that is not enough to create loyalty. Today’s consumer expects to be treated as unique, and he wants to feel important. How are you creating that for your customers?

Making it Personalized

Make each interaction feel as personal as possible – through all channels of communication with the customer. If you have a store-front, it will take staff training to support their memory of the “regular” loyal customers. For your digital communications, it will require dynamic personalization in your emails, text messages, and in-app messages. The difference between “Good Morning! Welcome to our store” and “Good morning, Joe! Welcome back” is loyalty. You have the ability to create that loyalty by making each customer feel special and recognized. (Yes, there will be the 1% who do not want to be remembered. But you need to know who they are too)

Gathering Customer Data

How are you expected to learn the customer’s name, birthday, and favorite product? It is a simple ask. If you are offering value to that customer by gaining new information, then he or she will be happy to offer up information to improve the experience. The pieces to really plan out and take consideration around are the: How, When, How Much, and Why

  • How are you asking the customer for the information? What communication channel are you using and how is the question being phrased?
  • When are you asking for the information? How are you spreading our your asks? If you want to identify 5 key pieces of information about the customer (first name, last name, birthday, favorite product, frequency of purchase), then you’ll need to think about the time in between.
  • How much are you asking for? Frankly, asking for a customer’s life story in a long string of texts or an online survey can be off-putting to even the most loyal customers.
  • Why are you asking for this information? You have internal reasons for it, so can you be completely transparent about those reasons or do you need to plan for a more polite way of explaining?

Loyalty programs, customer data, customer intelligence, personalization


This pizzeria spreads out their customer data inquiries over 6 months. As soon as you join the mobile   loyalty program, we want to know what your zip code is. Why? So you only receive offers that are valid at the location nearest to you.  It’s logical to the customer and useful to the company.

During a text campaign 1 month later, they may ask about a favorite order and ask for feedback on their menu items.

This structure avoids overwhelming or scaring the customer, but also fulfills your need to gather information – to drive loyalty.

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Hospitality Mobile Messaging

In-App Messages vs Text Messages

Hospitality Mobile Messaging – which one delivers results for hotels, airlines and other travel companies?

In-App messages (aka Push Notifications) are short messages sent from a mobile application that is installed on a user’s smartphone.  In-app messages can be sent even when the application is not being used. These are highly effective for some mobile applications – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social or gaming apps. It is a way to alert the user of new updates, special offers or reminders, and drive him to use the app.  The one big advantage of in-app messaging is that it is a fast way to drive users into the application.

Text messages (aka SMS) are short messages (160 characters) sent between two or more mobile phones. Text messages can be sent from a short code or a long code directly to a user’s mobile phone. The user does not need to have a smartphone, nor does he need to have your mobile application installed.  Since the end user includes both smart and feature phones (and you don’t need an app), the potential reach of your message is significantly wider. Text messaging eliminates the barrier points by allowing anyone with a mobile phone to join connect with your company, regardless of the phone type or wireless carrier.hospitality mobile messaging, hotels and resorts, text message marketing, in-app messaging

Hotels Using Mobile Messaging

You want to drive people to your mobile application or mobile website and make a purchase, so why would you use text messaging? Inclusion. If you want to reach all of your loyal customers, and get your message to them faster, then text will be the most effective tool.  Include a link to your website or into your mobile application in the text message, if that is how you are driving them to a purchase point. Resorts and Hotels around the world are discovering the power and effectiveness of text message marketing to keep guests informed and rooms filled. Last year, a Forrester survey identified a 450% increase in mobile bookings since 2009.

What Kinds of Text Messages Should Hotels Send?

  • Send Special Weekend Rates to Loyal Customers / VIPs
  • Fill Empty Rooms with a Last Minute Deal
  • Promote Other Services such as Restaurant, Bar and Resort Activities
  • Target Select Demographics by Zip Code or Preferences
  • Customer Satisfaction Surveys
  • Emergency and Weather Alerts

Tourism and Resort Messaging

Hotels are not the only ones who can increase revenues by leveraging mobile messaging, more tourism boards and specialty resorts are creating mobile marketing campaigns to draw people in. Resorts can capitalize on consumer behavior by combining it with highly segmented text messaging campaigns. The more you can gather about your customers (or potential customers), the more targeted your messages will be. A more personalized text message receives a better response rate. If you want to drive people to the ski slopes, then focus on visitors who prefer to visit during the cooler months. How do you find that out? Ask! Use two-way messaging to survey visitors about the kinds of information they want to receive from you.


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Excerpt from the Hamilton Spectator on Texting and Flying 

OTTAWA — Texting and driving is now a no-no. But texting and flying? That’s an idea that’s taking off. In a move that puts Canada at the forefront of aviation technology, air traffic controllers are using texts rather than radio to relay instructions to many of the aircraft flying high across the country.

The days of the Hollywood stereotype of a controller hunched over a radar scope, barking rapid-fire instructions to a string of aircraft appear numbered, replaced instead by the quiet click of a mouse. Today, controllers are assigning pilots changes in altitudes, headings, speed and routings via text. And in return, pilots can text their own requests to controllers for changes to their flight. It adds up to some 2,500 text messages a day — and climbing. texting and flying, operations, texting, canada

“This type of communication, this type of automation is certainly recognized within the industry as the way of the future,” said Rob Thurgur, assistant vice-president of operational support with Nav Canada, the agency that operates the country’s air traffic control system.


Known as “controller pilot data link communications,” the technology allows controllers working in area control centres to communicate via text with aircraft equipped to receive the messages, typically most commercial jets.

The text-based system uses a standard set of messages for the most routine communications. Once sent, the message appears on a cockpit display, where the pilots can read it and reply to acknowledge receipt.

Thurgur said text messages boost efficiency and safety by eliminating congestion on the radio frequencies and minimizing miscommunications that occur because of language barriers and bad reception.

“These issues around people transposing numbers, readbacks being incorrect and not being caught — you just don’t get those types of mistakes when the automation starts talking to each other,” he said in an interview.

While English is the official language of commercial aviation, vital instructions can get lost in translation in voice communications, a problem the new technology helps avoid.

“When you are talking to foreign pilots, you don’t have the language barrier because it’s all in text and it’s in a standard format that everybody understands,” Thurgur said.

Read the Full Article on Texting and Flying Here

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Driving Revenue with Mobile Display Advertisers

I knew that mobile marketing products would continue to develop over time and the latest in cell phone marketing developments offer interesting features that will make this technology more interactive and offer even better value to consumers. Mobile coupons are becoming increasingly popular with consumers and businesses alike, and I can see that this trend will continue now that these special offers can be redeemed directly from the recipient’s mobile phone.


Caribou Coffee Perks, Mobile Display Advertisers, Mobile Web
Caribou Coffee Perks Sign-Up Includes Text Messaging

2-Way Text Messaging

A new development that will help to establish a relationship between the customer and the business is a two-way text message advertising system. Customers cannot only receive text marketing messages from mobile display advertisers, but also respond to them. The text message business marketer then has the opportunity to provide information about special offers and promotions, as well as company information.

A really fun way to use text message campaigns to create interest in a company and its offerings is with a text-to-win feature. The company can use random drawing mobile marketing games as an incentive to encourage mobile users to sign up for the company’s mailing list. This mobile marketing strategy can be an effective one, since it piques the customer’s interest and I can see that many people would be interested in the possibility of winning a prize by playing a game on their handheld device.

As time goes on, I can see that businesses will continue to devise creative ways to interact with customers on the go. Mobile technology is here to stay and it will be interesting to watch how these techniques develop over time.

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