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[8 comments]

Do retailers need a central content aggregation site?

May 28, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Mark Heckman Consulting blog.

With more merchants doing un-targeted e-mail blasts, the open rates tend to be lower for everyone. Blogger-fed websites and the more established coupon distribution sites such as AllYou.com, RetailMeNot.com and Savings.com have a distinct advantage: a steady stream of deals. The more relevant the offers and the retailers are to the shopper, the better the traffic and the results will be for that site. They are on the right track.

However, many of these sites have passive relationships with the retailer content they post on the site. While coupon codes, shopping lists and circular content are available, a shopper cannot fully engage with each retailer by checking on their point totals for continuity programs or drilling down into their loyalty club and personal preferences. For that content, the shopper must go back to the retailer's own site, making the shopper's life more complicated, not less.

One answer appears to lie in the creation of comprehensive central content aggregation site, one in which the list of participating retailers satisfy key requisites for shopper-centric loyalty. I see the requirements as follows:

1. Content: The retailers must recognize the enhanced reach they will receive by actively posting both targeted and mass content on an additional central shopper/loyalty site for shoppers and use the site as a means to allow full integration into points, personal profiles, and past performance. While they maintain their own sites, this new central site provides the shopper a new, additional option for engaging with the retailer. With current technology, this can be achieved while maintaining the integrity of their customer database.

2. Community: This central site must represent the major players in each of the Shopping Communities built, meaning one or more major supermarket, mass retailer, chain drug, sporting goods, home improvement, electronic superstore, and an array of smaller complimenting loyalty retailers. Consumer research tells us that shoppers wildly support the concept of a single site.

3. Consistency: This central site must strive to grow its community of retailers in both number and volume of content, by promoting a dialogue with its shoppers and retailers.

4. Centricity: Big retailers will not engage in a commonly-shared platform with other retailers unless the central site embraces the importance of maintaining the retailer's control of its brand equities and shopper database. Both are table stakes for participation.

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the prospects of a central shopping/loyalty site supporting a community of retailers? What do see as the main obstacles to developing one? Are there simpler ways to aggregate coupon distribution that offer more benefit to stores?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you see more positives or negatives for stores working to aggregate coupon distribution?

Comments:

Bad idea that can lead to more problems for the retailers. I am not sure one retailer with very loyal customers wants to share that data to a website that their competition can view at any time. This could lead to all kinds of coupon and point wars that would not benefit any of the retailers. I think shoppers can manage on their own and allow the non store sites to offer deals without the retailers getting involved.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

I hate this idea. It assumes that customers value deals and points more than other kinds of interactions with retailers, like service and trust. Add in a healthy distrust of data brokers, and you've got recipe for wasted effort.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I would think it was annoying. I buy the Sunday paper and take an hour to see deals and plan the shopping list. I don't need an email as well. Text alerts on "flash deals" would mean more to me. I could bookmark them and see them later.

Kate Blake, Social Media Manager, Take Five with Kate Blake

I'm not saying this can't work, however I don't think there is incentive for retailers to share data in this way. And, I'm not sure that shoppers will build much true loyalty to retailer brands with aggregators like this. Many innovative retailers and CPG brands are having much better success by driving their loyal shoppers to their site, and/or apps to find not only promotional savings, but also "community" activities to create a sense of brand loyalty...far more valuable than a central coupon site. There are some great examples of this right now.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

This is a great idea as technology continues to confuse and often distort both the message and its delivery. Finding a simpler and more effective way to consolidate a centralized shopping/loyalty site would benefit everyone involved, while minimizing the issues with SPAM and unwanted emails.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

 
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If spam is the current method of distribution, then I suppose it makes sense to look at how best to support the delivery and consumption of coupons.

This question brings to mind a marker board filled with boxes and arrows. I suppose one of those boxes would contain a highly tagged database of manufacturer's coupons and I suppose one of the arrows would feed an upstream application like a shopping app.

I am not so sure about the centralized portal, but if such a site were able to drive heavy engagement, it would have great value. But can/will the Sunday Circular ritual can be migrated online? Maybe.

Since every aspect of shopping is being reengineered - usually at the expense of our market share - then retailers and manufacturers have a reason to proactively collaborate to find the best approaches regarding how coupons are delivered and consumed. Isn't this happening already?

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

There are some kernels of opportunity here. The example sites don't deliver on them very well, as Mark well observes. But at least they accumulate offers from multiple sources, saving some effort for committed deal-seekers.

I'd favor a more shopper-centric approach, an application not just a Web site, that enables individuals to aggregate available deals and best prices in their local markets and plan shopping trips to attain the lowest overall cost. Doing this just for grocery is challenge enough -- remember that most shoppers assemble their weekly "solution" from visits to two or three retailers or more.

The obstacles to this approach seem pretty obvious:

First, the shopper application has to continuously capture accurate, comprehensive price and deal information from area retailers. Gathering the data is hard. Web scraping is only part of the answer.

Second, the app needs to sift that data to assemble the best overall individual shopping plan for each participant according to their purchase intent, covering all the stores in their consideration set. Like a shopping agent.

Third, retailers have to learn to believe in the value of this approach in their continuous competition for share of trips and wallet.

Reading into Mark's post, I infer that he may be hard at work on the concepts he describes. Based on my respect for his past accomplishments, I'd give these ideas credence.

And no, I do not think it is likely that we can make this simple for the practitioners. I think winning will depend on our ability to simplify the process for shoppers.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

 
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I've seen consortia like the one proposed here tried in other industries and I have never seen one work. Too many competing agendas among the stakeholders bog down decision making. The customer experience ends up being designed by committee with the result hitting the lowest common denominator.

There could be a kernel of an idea here. If a big platform vendor (eBay, Square, even one of the traditional POS vendors) were to build a killer experience that addresses these pain points they might have a chance to persuade retailers to plug into their design. Until something like that is built (and it's still unlikely), retailers should focus on perfecting the experience on their own platforms.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

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