Reimagining the High Street - A Winning Proposition?

We already had developed an app for retailers to scan visiting customers' mobiles, so why did we need to go on to develop VoucherPoints too?

First published in Revive and Thrive's Place Magazine, the perils, pitfalls and achievements of Reimagining the High Street, an Innovate-UK funded project are recounted in a series of contributions from Guy Chatburn, MD of Rewarding Visits.

1.A Winning Proposition ?

Vision

I revisited our Innovate UK entry form the other day. A tip off from our local BID Manager in early 2014 had drawn our attention to a government-funded initiative for technology companies. It was to help ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers and their communities meet the seismic digital challenges posed by online retailers and increasingly mobile-using consumers.

It asked for “Our Vision”, which I guess was a quick way for assessors to scan through hundreds of applications and categorise them. With hindsight, I realise it’s also had a profound way of maintaining our focus on our ultimate goal, while we’ve experienced the inevitable setbacks and distractions.

Our vision was, and still is, *“to empower retailers and their communities to connect with their customers individually, online, on mobile and on the street”. *

Background

Rewarding Visits had already introduced a Retailer App into Sutton Coldfield, in association with the town centre’s BID. Running on any tablet or mobile phone, it enables local retail businesses to scan a consumer’s unique code whenever they show their Sutton Card or App. Each retailer sets their own rewards and the number of requisite trigger visits: from once for a Welcome Offer through to (say) five visits for a free coffee or 10% off at the till.

We were familiar with many ‘local loyalty’ schemes in the US and UK. Few of them, to us, seemed to share the data collected with the towns or retailers involved. A “show-me” card or app, where a retailer gave a deal, but couldn’t record the event, was, in our opinion, a wasted opportunity for each business to know their visiting customers. A scan with the Retailer App records the visit, recruits the visitor to the retailer’s database and enables analysis of behaviour and targeted follow-up communication.

Overcoming Barriers to Adoption

The scheme was going well, with 30 retailers participating and 3,000 members already signed up in the first three months. However, we’d already hit three main barriers to future growth. These may be familiar to those with experience working in the high street with local loyalty schemes.

i) Low Chain Store Participation

Sutton Coldfield has a thriving independent sector, but the central shopping area is dominated by a mall, and over 80% of its tenants are national chain stores.
A few national names had joined the scheme: Ryman, Wetherspoons, Hotter and Patisserie Valerie, for example. These became instantly the most popular on the scheme, driven by public recognition and demand. However, most of the other chain stores and eateries could not contemplate placing a tablet near a till, asking head office for permission to join a local scheme, or approaching the regional manager to think up a reward for regular visits. This contrasted with the almost universal enthusiasm shown by the individual branch managers, who saw the potential benefit of a local community-based scheme.

We needed to come up with a way that any chain could participate at a local level, without imposing system changes or creating issues for head office.

ii) Low Visibility Around Town

If a town has a local loyalty scheme, I often find that it is only marked by a few discrete window stickers in a handful of shops. Sutton Coldfield was no exception despite our best endeavours. Most retailers didn’t display our community scheme Point of Sale material, or posters. The larger outlets quoted “head office”, but even displays in the most enthusiastic independents, after a few weeks, had mysteriously found their way under the counter!

We needed to devise our own independent means of publicising the local scheme, so shoppers can readily identify where to go and what’s on offer.

iii) But, They’re Already Here

It was at a retailer feedback meeting when one trader made a remark that I have never forgotten. When asked why they were not showing the posters confirming that they had a deal for loyalty card members, they said “but they’re already in my shop”.

This retailer seemed to sum up the attitude of several other high street businesses. There was no need to market themselves to the people who already habituate their high street, as they are there anyway: drawn by the anchor tenants or fed by the nearby office block. However, since that meeting, the main anchor tenant, BHS, has shut, and the office block has emptied, to be converted into flats. That trader has now closed too.

We had to identify a way to help reluctant traders run promotions which did not cannibalise their existing trade but attracted new people to their premises and helped build a direct marketing database to keep in touch, even when other places may now be more appealing to visit.

Developing VoucherPoints

Our proposal was to create a locally-branded digital kiosk and place it in various high street locations, wherever a local loyalty card or app scheme was in place.

Each kiosk would include a large digital screen to run advertisements for the scheme and local businesses. At the touch of the screen, it would then allow a visitor to search for local offers and after scanning their card or app, the consumer could print-off vouchers to take into store.

By using printed vouchers, we anticipated that many more chain retailers could participate, as the vouchers could replicate existing promotions, even carrying their own barcodes to be scanned at their tills.

The commercial objective was then to make a local scheme’s installation self-funding. We aimed to do this by raising advertising revenue and using it to provide a digital platform for the high street to continue to thrive.

Project Countdown

The long weeks after submission of the online entry form were agony. We knew that the national competition had attracted four hundred entries, but we were one of twenty selected for a final presentation and more detailed proposal. The more we thought about the ideas we had for the kiosks, the more excited we became about their potential. The BID team were also ready and willing to be “guinea pigs” in our experiment.

When we heard that we had won, we had a mixture of feelings. Initial delight quickly gave way to the realisation of the demands of a government sponsored contract. It was going to be an interesting next few years!

Next Month – Reality Bites!

Guy Chatburn
MD Rewarding Visits

Rewarding Visits provides the digital platform behind the local schemes in Gloucester, Mansfield and Sutton Coldfield.

@rewardingguy
www.rewardingvisits.com