Unilever trials new mobile system

01 June 2009

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS: Unilever, the consumer goods company, is launching a new pilot scheme enabling shoppers in the US to reclaim coupons for many of its leading brands by having their mobile phones scanned at supermarket checkouts.

The Anglo-Dutch company is one of a number of FMCG firms looking to exploit the marketing opportunities offered by the mobile platform, a medium that has been boosted by the development of smartphones such as Apple's iPhone.

The new initiative, which will offer reduced prices on brands including Dove, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Breyers ice cream and Lipton Tea, will initially last for a period of four weeks at one outlet of ShopRite, the supermarket chain, and could then be rolled out to a number of stores.

Consumers can visit the website Samplesaint.com – a web portal run by the mobile technology company that developed the new system – in order to send appropriate coupons to web-enabled mobile phones.

When they pay for items in stores, the barcode on the voucher can be scanned directly from the screen of their cellphone, with the coupon then being deleted from the device.

According to Marc Shaw, Unilever's director of integrated marketing, "this has been a Holy Grail thing that people have been trying to figure out. I think this is on target for where consumers' heads are at right now."

The appeal of using this channel is all the more powerful, he posited, as "the cellphone is the thing that when you leave it behind at home, you go back and get it. It's the organiser of our lives."

Recent research undertaken by Icom found that 87% of people who were using vouchers did so when buying grocery goods, compared with 47% doing so at restaurants, and 41% at department stores.

However, it has also been argued that potential technological problems, such as failed attempts to scan vouchers, and the fact that consumers are required to both find and download coupons to wireless handsets, could prove difficult to overcome.

Andy Murray, ceo of Saatchi & Saatchi X, said that, with regard to such programmes, "we're still in an attempt-and-learn phase," and it was imperative to ensure that such initiatives are in line with shoppers "time", "money" and "frustration" budgets.

However, Unilever will also continue to offer print coupons and a range of online initiatives, as Shaw argues that the new plan is "just another way to do this. We want to be out there with as much variety as we can."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff