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Use personalized app engagement to win customer loyalty

By Dave Sikora

Retailers are becoming more accustomed to jumping over a long line of hurdles to gain customer loyalty. There are so many avenues of information available to consumers, and catching the attention of one long enough to spur an actionable decision has become The Challenge to Overcome.

Mobile technology has carved a path from retailer directly to consumers, and has given the industry a viable way to communicate with their best customers at the most opportune time.

Communication with customers on mobile devices should be approached with cautious respect, however.

Mobile phones are personal for many people?minutes and SMS texts should be spent speaking with friends or family, people phone owners choose to contact, not wasted by companies constantly sending non-personal and irrelevant blast messages in efforts to be heard.

A Pew Internet survey found that mobile phone owners cite SMS texts from marketers as one of five major mobile problems. Because of this, retailers should view sending unsolicited SMS messages to customers as an inappropriate form of outreach that may ultimately anger or annoy the customer, rather than create a sense of brand loyalty.

There is a much better way to reach customers on mobile devices that is more conducive to a lasting relationship: in-application messaging and engagement.

In-app messaging is opportunistic and unobtrusive. Where SMS texting is limited in effectiveness and inappropriate, in-app push notifications are opportunistic and unobtrusive.

As a part of a branded mobile app, retailers automatically include push notifications as a way to communicate with consumers on special promotions, welcome or farewell messages and other brand news.

Because customers must choose to opt-in to location services and push notifications, retailers understand that customers want to receive these notifications.

In fact, a Pew Internet report shows that more than 75 percent of smartphone owners opt in to location-based services.

Push notifications do not cost the customers money, yet get just as much attention as SMS texts.

Retailers with location-enabled mobile apps are able to communicate with customers based on their proximity to the store or other marked location established via geofencing, which is a GPS-based technology that creates a virtual perimeter around a physical location.

In-app messaging can inspire action at the right time. The key to increasing conversion rates on promotional messages is to add meaningful context to conversation with consumers.

Interacting with the consumer at the right place and time will help influence their purchase decision rather than distract them with irrelevant engagement messaging.

With mailed or email promotions, customers have a much more separated decision-to-purchase process than if they receive the promotion right as they are walking or driving by a store?and mass promotional emails that are sent to people all over the country at one time are not personal or local.

Consumers are bombarded with so many options, so gaining their full attention is a challenging task made easier with in-store app messaging.

Getting customers into the store is not the only challenge. Interacting with them while they are browsing merchandise is also important for encouraging the purchase.

In-app messaging will drive consumers to your store from other locations. There is no reason to leave in-app messaging for your storefronts only.

Retailers can set geofences up around complementary locations to encourage consumers to move purchases to their business.

For example, a sporting goods store can use its branded rich app to communicate with potential shoppers playing a round of golf at a nearby course by capturing their attention with a special on golf balls.

The same is true for restaurants or food manufacturers who have locations around office parks, where potential customers are working.

In-app messaging can increase customer loyalty. Customers do not easily give loyalty to just any retailer ? the retailer has to earn it.

Offering a personalized shopping experience that brings convenience and good deals to a customer can go a long way in earning loyalty.

The convenient, relevant communication in-app messaging brings can keep the retailer at the forefront of consumers? minds, and may be just what is needed to increase continued patronage.

Retailers could also earn loyalty brownie points by providing customers with useful tips about subjects that have nothing to do with driving a sale?for example, a beauty goods retailer can send push notifications that highlight nail painting tutorials or ?tips for how to highlight your eyes.?

AS LATE APPLE founder Steve Jobs once said, ?Be the yardstick of quality. Some people aren?t used to an environment where excellence is expected.?

Set yourself above other retailers and start connecting with customers in a personal, yet convenient and appropriate way.

Leave SMS texting for friends, family and appointment reminders from medical offices and beauty salons, and distinguish your company from spammers with on-time, right-place branded messages from your mobile app. Customers everywhere will thank you.

Dave Sikora is CEO of Digby, Austin, TX. Reach him at .