In mid February several of my classmates and I went to Las Vegas to the National Grocers Association (NGA) Convention. We came to compete in the second annual student case competition against other undergrad teams from the Food Industry University Coalition. The problem we were asked to address was "how can independent retailers, wholesalers and co-ops implement mobile coupons to drive sales and profits?"
Angelica Almanza, Megan Lovejoy, Andre Gordillo and myself were selected for the team just before the thanksgiving holiday and began our research soon after. My initial thoughts as we approached this project were that there are mountains of mobile apps available and a big part of completing this task would be to find specific apps or at least features of apps that could be adopted or adapted by grocery stores for coupon use.
The process of searching and experimenting with mobile apps led to more than a little frustration. Aside from the weekly software updates, confusing user interfaces, and daily deals that cause your phone to randomly vibrate or beep, basic features needed to make mobile coupons a reality are missing.
One of the major problems with mobile coupons is getting them off your phone; most supermarket scanners cannot read barcodes from a smartphone screen. There are ways around this problem as we discovered on a field trip to the grocery store using coupons from the Chinook Book mobile app. Using numerical short codes given to the cashier either verbally or by handing your phone over gets you your discount, but the process is clumsy and it takes time.
Our strategy to address this mobile coupon problem evolved into a mobile marketing plan that integrated grocery stores existing websites, social media, in store promotions that are automatically applied at the point of sale, and the most widely used, reliable, and user friendly smartphone features, text messages and email.
After the first round of case competition presentations we were able to sit in on the presentations of the four teams in the finals. It was interesting to listen to the different approaches to mobile coupons even though we were drawing upon much of the same research and data. The wining team from Louisiana State University addressed some of the same frustration we had with implementing mobile coupons, but set themselves apart from the other presentations by clearly identifying a few specific apps and features and describing how they could be used to target unique demographic groups.
Throughout our preparation process and throughout the NGA convention, the expertise and experience of associates of The Food Industry Center became an invaluable resource to draw upon.
Kat Kozitza from SUPERVALU gave up her time so that my teammates and I could pick her brain about mobile marketing. She provided us with some great insight on coupon clearing and the shift to digital coupons. She also pointed us to a great example of integrated digital marketing in the form of the new Cub Foods website.
Cindy Sorenson from the Midwest Dairy Association sat in on our presentation and provided some reassurance and advice after a tough round of questions from the panel of grocery industry judges.
Brian Numainville from Nash Finch was kind enough to spend time with me walking around the convention floor and provided a unique understanding of the grocery industry, the NGA, and their evolution.
Professor Boland provided guidance for our team on industry analysis, store financials, demographics, and helped us stay focused by asking that key question, "What do the numbers tell you?"
This trip to Las Vegas, competing in the student case competition, exploring the NGA convention, and meeting so many passionate industry professionals has been a wonderful and memorable experience. This experience was possible in large part because of Lisa Jore, who was there to help our team in every step of our preparation for the case competition, managed all the details and logistics of this trip, and is directly responsible for bringing us together with many of the food industry professionals that made this such a rich experience.