Mobile applications and technologies provide the ability to significantly improve customer experience shopping at franchise stores. The mobile device provides many opportunities for advertising, customer engagement, and most important, sales. Franchises will uniquely benefit from these capabilities along the entire spectrum, from brand marketing to closing the sale.
In many ways, the evolution of mobile web technology mirrors that of online technologies. Initially, websites provided text-based and graphical information about the company and its products. The next step in that evolution was online ordering for delivery franchises, such as pizzas. Customers were able to customize their pie, provide their home address for delivery, and enter payment directly on the website, which automatically transmitted the order to the relevant store's point-of-sale system.
Social networking sites also provided franchises with the ability to engage their customers on the screen. Customers were provided with games or other brand marketing collateral, the ability to provide feedback to the store, and receive information about sales and special events.
The mobile device extends franchises' reach into the pockets of its existing and potential customers. The functionalities that can be leveraged begin with functionality similar to those online, and then extend beyond.
Many franchises similarly started with "brochureware" and informational collateral. The ability to browse products directly from the mobile device while killing time, or play brand-building games on the mobile device provides extensive benefits. For fast food franchises, this information includes nutritional information about the food they serve.
In addition, mobile devices can be used for communication. Casual dining franchises are beginning to use text-messaging notifications in place of the vibrating hockey pucks to notify diners when their table is ready. Real estate franchises can consider using 2D (matrix) barcodes with their advertising or keep potential buyers posted on a development. A number of applications on the mobile device will enable a customer to take a picture of the bar code and have specific information about the property delivered to the device. Such information could include a phone number to the appropriate real estate agent, and the customer can make an inquiry directly.
Mobile websites and applications have also extended into the ordering and purchasing phase, such as with Chipotle, which has a separate window for orders sent ahead. Mobile devices are also location-aware and able to search for specific locations near the customer the same way one can search for ATMs from a mobile site or application.
The location-aware functionalities of mobile devices also provide new and innovative social networking opportunities. While these devices have the ability to search for nearby franchise locations, they also can receive coupons directly. Location-aware marketing provides the quickest and most direct way to convert a passerby to a customer.
Inclusion of specific franchise locations within an application published by the national brand provides additional support for the franchise investment. For instance, AllState publishes a single iPhone application to the App Store that enables bill payment regardless of the specific branch at which customers purchase their policy. The Allstate application also provides specific tools directly to customers' mobile devices to file a claim and take pictures of the accident.
Mobile devices are also evolving greater capabilities to present payments. Whether it is through a third-party application such as PayPal or mPayy, merchant accounts can be opened with either service to accept payments from customers. Payments technology is evolving beyond mobile websites and applications as well. Hardware linked to merchant accounts provided by startups like Square, and more established companies like Intuit, allow anyone to swipe a credit card directly in their mobile device. For franchisees who do not have a traditional retail presence with a bona fide POS system, this technology provides them with a portable POS system to expand the forms of payment they can accept.
Near-field communication (NFC) is a contactless technology that uses an RFID chip designed in the mobile device and linked with a mPayy or PayPal account, or a bank-issued credit or debit card. Certainly NFC transactions will speed customers through checkout in fast food franchises. However, vending machine franchisees should continue to look at this type of transaction. NFC transactions do not include cash, which means there is additional cash weight that must be serviced with a machine, though there are merchant processing fees.
Mobile phones will continue to evolve, and the operating platforms and hardware installed within will grow more complex. Franchisees should be ready to add new service offerings and adapt existing operations to make the most of these opportunities. Franchisees should also be very attuned to the improvements provided by the national brand in the related mobile sites and applications. Doing so can be very profitable.
Conrad Sheehan is CEO of mPayy, a multi-channel, electronic, alternative payment company founded in June 2007 and headquartered in Chicago. Before mPayy, he was a senior vice president at JPMorganChase and head of its consumer payments business where he was responsible for the bank's retail payment products that served the bank's corporate and public sector clients. Before that, he held national sales management, product management, and strategy roles at the bank. Previously, he was a partner at Accenture, a global management and technology consulting firm. Contact him at 312-346-7090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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