Becoming Social Media Savvy


Retailers of all kinds are now successfully using social media tools to build or enhance their loyalty programs. In our industry, Mid Pac Petroleum LLC in Honolulu, Hawaii is a great example:

"We use social media like Facebook and Twitter as well as SMS, email and Smartphone Apps to send special deals, offers and promotions to our loyal customers," said Nathan Peters, Manager of IT at Mid Pac Petroleum. "Soon we will send bar-coded coupons to our social media fans and when customers bring their mobile coupon to our stores on their cell phones we simply scan the coupon from their phone at our Passport POS. Customers are excited to receive special discounts, and their phones are always convenient."

You may already have most of the tools you need to implement simple social media tactics. You have a computer, Internet access, a back-office system and a telephone. You may also already have an image scanner.

Using social media to build a loyal following at your store doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. At the NACS Show this fall, we ran a very successful contest through our social media networks and our Passport point-of-sale system with little more than a scanner and a cell phone. Here are the seven easy steps that we implemented:

Step 1: Create a bar code and add it to your existing back office price book. Create a legitimate bar code and get a clean image of it. Make sure the bar code generator is meeting your scanner’s programming requirements and that you use the correct bar code format.

Assign it a zero dollar price, since it’s part of a combo that will be the discount. You can just use your cell phone to take a picture of a bar code that you won’t be using in your store for any other purpose.

Step 2: Test the bar code image with your scanner. Make sure it’s the right size for a standard smartphone screen. We tested with iPhone, iPad Droid and Blackberry. Contrast settings on the phone can matter. Smartphones with brightness levels set very low can make it hard for the image scanner to read. Some people trying to save battery life can experience difficulty when scanning their phone. In addition, clear protective covers can also affect the image scanner. Our testing showed that with a little practice, a cashier can find the "sweet spot" on the scanner.

Step 3: Using your POS system, create a Combo Deal that includes your new bar code. Tie the code to a combo (which may be only one item). The Combo Deal needs to have a defined end date, so the coupon will have immediate value.

Step 4: Purchase, install and program an image scanner for your POS. This is not just a typical bar code scanner, but an actual image scanner is needed. We used a Honeywell Xenon 1900. Make sure to configure it similar to the standard POS scanner. Decide if you wish the scanner to operate in trigger mode or always looking for something to scan. Trigger mode seems to be more accurate, but it does take more time to handle items.

Step 5: Post the bar code image on your Facebook page. Use your other social media outlets to link to it. Your customers and followers can download the bar code right onto their phones. Now the customer’s phone becomes the coupon! Your customers bring their phones to your store, display the bar code image, and your cashier scans it from the phone.

Step 6: Implement the promotion at the store. If you have a dispenser merchandising program, consider having the same coupon printable at the dispenser. Or, you may want to print paper copies of the bar code to have in the store in case your customer’s phone is having problems.

Step 7: Monitor the success of your promotion through your POS flash reports, back office system, and dispenser media system.

Having your customers receive your message in various forms is a power way to get them to remember you and reinforce the incentives.

If this all seems new to you, don’t think you’re alone. Studies show that just one year ago, only 1 out of 10 business owners said they use social media. A year later, 4 in 10 business owners use social media in their marketing efforts. Use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is free, although someone does need to invest time in it. If you use it effectively, it can be a bargain when compared to traditional paid advertising. The other unique quality of social media is the opportunity for two-way discussion.

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