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Ace Hardware debuts mobile coupons, voice recognition customer assistance

Ace Hardware has introduced a new mobile service that helps shoppers find products on store shelves and encourages repeat business with mobile coupons.

Debuting initially at the Ace Hardware in Des Peres, MO, a suburb of St. Louis, Ace's new mobile voice recognition customer assistance service creates new ways for retailers and consumer product manufacturers to communicate with customers and track consumer behavior. Ace Hardware tapped voice recognition product location service provider Aisle411 for the mobile platform, which can be reached via any mobile phone by calling 1-877-AISLE411 toll free.

"The strategy behind the launch of the Ace Hardware voice recognition product location service is to enhance the helpful service we provide everyday using the latest technology," said Rick Baalmann, president of Ace Hardware, St. Louis, MO. "We hope to bring value to the consumer and our vendor partners by matching up consumer needs and product via the SMS coupons and offers.

"Aisle411 allows us to best fulfill our goal of having customers find the product they need even when we are extremely busy," he said. "It will also allow shoppers to call ahead and decrease the amount of time needed to complete their shopping experience.

"We believe the time-sensitive individual will use this service -- it's more of a psychographic than a demographic."

Ace Hardware hopes to partner with vendors to feature their products in an attempt to raise sponsorship revenue and add value for the consumer at the POS.

The hardware brand and Aisle411 are getting the word out about these mobile initiatives using a variety of media, including in-store marketing and customer communications.

If this mobile program is successful, other Ace Hardware locations are sure to follow suit.

"Ace stores are independently owned and we have learned that if something works well many of the retailers will embrace the idea," Mr. Baalman said.

Aisle411 Inc. is a mobile marketing technology company that lets shoppers find product locations in stores quickly by using their mobile phones.

By helping consumers help themselves and save time, Aisle411's service is designed to create a new disruptive technology channel for retailers and consumer product companies to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Ace Hardware shoppers who call Aisle411 state their location and the store, ask for the item then receive the location of the product over the phone and by text within seconds.

In addition, Aisle411 will offer coupons and other money-saving offers via text message that can be used immediately in the store where they are shopping.

If consumers would like a mobile coupon sent to their phone via SMS, they can say "Send coupons" to get a text message with a numeric coupon code that Ace enters into their point-of-sale system.

Some mobile coupons are dated for the following week, encouraging consumers to return at a later date to spend more.

For example, a storewide promotion will offer consumers $5 off a $25 purchase at Ace Hardware via SMS.

Aisle411's research, a nationwide survey conducted by Bryles Research, found that nearly 84 percent of shoppers have some difficulty finding products on store shelves, especially at hardware, sporting goods and big-box stores.

More than 67 percent of shoppers say they would use this free service, especially women ages 31-40.

More than 22 percent of shoppers give up while looking for hard-to-find items in a store, walking away with another product, or with nothing and potentially buying at another store, according to Aisle411.

Another 56.6 percent ask an associate for help, creating a huge demand on staff time and attention, also according to Aisle411.

By using voice recognition technology to help Ace Hardware shoppers find what they need by dialing a number on their mobile phones and asking for an item, it saves time for shoppers and the retailer and lets consumer product manufacturers to recapture sales that may not have happened otherwise.

For example, a shopper may have difficulty finding a new sprinkler head. This is an opportunity for a manufacturer of lawn fertilizer to remind the consumer, via Aisle411, that now is the season to look for their product, and by the way, it is in Aisle 14 and you can save fifteen percent today with a coupon sent to your phone.

Additional Ace Hardware locations and retailers will launch the Aisle411 mobile service soon.

The company claims to be the first retailer in the world to offer the service to its customers.

There is no software to download and the service is free, although standard phone charges from mobile service providers may apply.

Aisle411 will also be able to provide retailers and consumer product manufacturers with information about their customer's buying preferences, including what and when products are most often searched.

Retailers will be able to use this information to improve product placement within the store, offer promotions on a product when it is more likely to be in demand and offer valuable customer service training and insight to store associates.

Aisle411 has worked with multiple retailers to load their inventory of products and their locations within each store into the Aisle411 database. Aisle411 is made possible by new advances in voice recognition technology. Aisle411's service recognizes when a caller is asking for a product that sounds similar to other items in the store.

"The strategy is to launch initially with one store location then grow it beyond that," said Nathan Pettyjohn, cofounder/CEO of Aisle411, St. Louis, MO. "Ace wants to provide their customers with the ultimate in customers service, and our platform provides a unique way for customers to help themselves when they can't find an employee in the store.

"It's another touch point for Ace that bridges gap between consumers doing research online and coming in to the store to make purchases and a mechanism for Ace to offer consumers extremely relevant marketing messages based on what they're looking for within the store," he said. "If you're in a hurry, instead of wandering the store, you call into our system and tell us what product you'd like to find, and we tell you aisle number and sub-location within that aisle.

"You have the opportunity to say text me and we'll send you the product location, interact with you via text messages based on the voice responses you make in the system, and make offers via SMS coupons."