Facebook and Twitter are far from passé, but food retailers are testing less-established social networking platforms like Foursquare, Groupon — even QR Codes — for promotional purposes.
PCC Natural Markets, Seattle, is so technologically advanced that it will soon start connecting with shoppers via Quick Response (QR) codes, barcodes that smart phones can read to display text, a Web page or video.
The QR code got its start in the Japanese auto industry for inventory purposes. Because they hold more data than standard bar codes, they've quickly been expanded to other areas, including the food retailing industry.
In the near future, PCC will test QR codes on shelf talkers in the produce department to give shoppers information about melons and avocados, according to Ricardo Rabago, PCC's social media specialist.
Once a shopper snaps a photo of a QR code with their smart phone, a two-minute, how-to video will appear on the phone. Called “PCC Quick Bites,” the videos will provide tips on how to select, cut and serve the fruit.
At a time when a growing number of consumers have an iPhone, Android or other phone equipped with a QR reader, the strategy enables retailers to communicate with shoppers in a way that they want, said Rabago.
“We know our shoppers have phones that can read QR codes,” Rabago told SN.
PCC is also leveraging Google Maps for promotional purposes. Each time someone visits the pccnaturalmarkets.com website and views “store locations,” a printable coupon pops up to encourage a store visit. The current offer is $1 off a $5 deli purchase.
Such tactics come at a time when three-quarters of retail respondents said they planned to grow their use of social media in the next year, according to SN's 2010 Center Store Survey.
Social media offers an economical way of engaging shoppers, said Rabago. It's especially helpful to small businesses seeking to reduce advertising costs. While an ad in the White Pages can run $2,000 to $3,000, the cost for a Google coupon is $25 a month per location. Likewise, there are several free QR generators on the Web.
“It's a way to engage shoppers without a high investment cost,” said Rabago.
Since new social media platforms continually emerge, businesses need to stay on top of the latest technologies and jump on board sooner than later, said Rabago.
“It moves quickly,” he said.
PCC was one of the early supermarket adopters of Foursquare, a location-based social networking website in which users are awarded points and rewards for “checking-in” frequently at venues.
PCC has used Foursquare to encourage shoppers to visit stores more often. One of its first Foursquare promotions awarded a free bakery cookie to all those who “checked in” to a store three times within a specified period. Hundreds of shoppers responded. The retailer now regularly runs similar Foursquare promotions, awarding cookies, doughnuts and the like for frequent store check-ins.
Many businesses that use Foursquare give exclusive rewards to so-called “mayors,” or those who have the most check-ins at a certain spot.
But PCC doesn't focus on mayors because its goal is to reward multiple shoppers for their store loyalty.
“We steer away from designating anyone as a mayor because we want to make sure everyone wins,” he said.
PCC benefits from Foursquare not only by increasing shopper frequency among existing shoppers, but also attracting new customers. That's because when someone “checks in” to PCC, his or her Foursquare followers see it, so PCC gets good exposure.
Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, has researched Foursquare, and may get involved in the near future, according to Nick Nawroth, who manages the retailer's Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Many of Dorothy Lane's Twitter followers have noted that they're interested in Foursquare.
“I hear people are fighting to become mayors,” he noted.
It's now exploring the best way to implement it and what offers to run.
“It could be an exciting dynamic to add to our marketing efforts,” he said.
Another tool some retailers are using is Groupon, a shopping website that acts as a collective buyer. Groupon negotiates deals with spas, fitness center, restaurants, food stores and other businesses and then notifies subscribers about them. Users can then opt in to buy the deal. As an example, Fox & Obel, a gourmet store in Chicago, used Groupon for a “Pay $20, get $40” deal. Nearly 10,000 offers were sold.
Each Groupon offer requires a minimum number of buyers. If the required number of buyers sign up, their credit cards are charged and they are sent a link to print a voucher. Groupon splits the profits with the participating retailer.
Groupon has a social media component because subscribers frequently talk up offers on Facebook and Twitter to garner the required number of buyers to activate a deal.
As an added incentive, each time someone subscribes and makes a purchase, the person who referred them gets a $10 Groupon credit.
Groupon is presently available in 22 countries, including 85 U.S. markets. It has 12 million subscribers worldwide, according to Julie Mossler, consumer-marketing manager.
The concept helps food retailers attract new consumers to their business, she said.
“Some people may not shop a certain grocer because they don't know what it's all about,” Mossler said. “Groupon introduces them.”
Retailers benefit even if a deal doesn't get the required number of buyers, she added.
“It's great word-of-mouth advertising,” she said. “Someone may be walking down the street and see a business promoted on Groupon and decide to try it out.”
Gourmet Again, a single-unit upscale store in Pikesville, Md., launched its first Groupon offer (pay $15, get $30 worth of free items) last month with good results, said manager Michael Hackerman. While he expected to sell 1,000 vouchers, more than 2,400 were purchased.
The goal was to attract new customers.
“I have a good hold on my existing customers, but it's tough to get new ones,” he said.
The store redeemed up to 40 Groupons daily during the first week of the promotion. Hackerman believes many of these were new shoppers.
“I'm seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces in my store,” Hackerman noted.