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    It’s (Pokémon) Go Time for Grocers

    ‘Social media phenomenon’ offers capitalization opportunities for retailers

    By Randy Hofbauer, Progressive Grocer

    It's been three weeks since the launch of Pokémon Go, a mobile game that began taking the country by storm just days after its release. And given the attention it has received – more than 10 million downloads and 21 million active users during its first week alone – it’s understandable that brand marketers are taking notice of what’s been called a “social media phenomenon,” and the most active mobile game ever in the United States.

    For those who don’t know, Pokémon Go is a free-to-play augmented-reality game for mobile devices that uses a phone’s GPS and camera to capture, battle and train wild Pokémon, virtual creatures that appear on the screen, laid over what's seen on camera. While the technology it uses isn't new, the game marks one of the strongest augmented-reality technology entries into mainstream culture.

    Additionally, it’s getting users out of their homes to explore their neighborhood locales – including grocery stores – to find and catch wild Pokémon. This news begs the question: How can grocery retailers leverage the app to drive foot traffic and, in turn, sales?

    Catch ‘Em!

    Perhaps the quickest, easiest way for grocers to capitalize on the craze is to employ an in-app option called the “Lure Module,” according to Nels Stromborg, EVP of Chicago-based mobile advertising firm Retale. For a small fee, this module turns designated spots into nests of wild Pokémon. Using this module is especially helpful if the retailer’s store is or is near a PokéStop, a preassigned area where users can stock up on Poké Balls, spheres used to capture and train the creatures.

    Retailers also could capitalize by being near a “gym,” a preassigned area where players battle each other for ruling rights, and strongly promoting stores' proximity to it. This requires some luck on the retailer’s part, but a lucky retailer would be remiss in not addressing it.

    “This is a bit analogous to the old ‘Mayor’ system in [social media check-in app] Foursquare,” said Stromborg. “One creative marketing strategy using these locations would be to give players who are occupying your store’s gym some sort of promotion or discount. This is a way to translate gameplay into actual sales, and encourages repeat trips to reclaim the gym.”

    Since battles can last a while in a gym, retailers could provide charging stations for players looking to boost a drained phone battery afterward, suggested Margie Kupfer, VP of marketing at 3C, a mobile marketing firm based in Boca Raton, Fla.

    Additionally, grocers can take to their social media accounts to promote local Pokémon. They have the opportunity to develop and promote contests and referral programs that reward players for uploading pictures and location-tagging them on their social media accounts.

    Grocers also can promote that they’re rewarding users who find Pokémon at their stores. For instance, Midwestern retailer Martin’s Super Markets held a contest encouraging shoppers to post photos of Pokémon characters at its store locations.

    And, of course, simple, physical signage could do the trick to get Pokémon fans into grocers’ stores and begin a conversation about the game between the grocer and potential customers.

    “Pictures of Pokémon in the store, a sign explaining some discount for players, or just a reference to the game on a sandwich board on the sidewalk – these signs tell players that you and your store are in on the game, too,” Stromborg explained. “Part of the appeal and success of the game has come from the discovery of other people playing out in the world, and expanding that experience for your customers is a great way to encourage them to return and catch more Pokémon.”

    Pokémon, Evolve!

    Pokémon creatures are known for their ability to evolve. And while the app already seems to be the pinnacle of mobile-gaming innovation, it, too, will continue to evolve, adding new features that will benefit grocers.

    Such features include sponsored locations that let businesses sponsor their stores for certain game activities, allowing them to lure players to their locations, and the ability for players to connect with each other in real time via near-field communication (NFC).

    “Grocers/retailers can leverage NFC and beacons in the same way by connecting with their customers based on their specific location – proximity marketing – offering personalized content while shopping, such as loyalty points updates and coupons sent directly to their phone as they enter the store, and enticing the shopper to make a purchase,” Kupfer said.

    Pokémon Go opens the door to the endless capabilities and opportunities augmented reality holds for the future of brands and marketing, Kupfer explained. As more retailers adopt, and adapt to, the technology – whether through an app like Pokémon Go or via other technologies – they will have the ability to enhance the in-store experience, bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds, and making advertising and marketing not just a sales pitch, but also an experience.

    By Randy Hofbauer, Progressive Grocer
    • About Randy Hofbauer Randy Hofbauer is senior editor of Progressive Grocer. He has more than a decade of experience as a journalist and researcher, almost all of it covering CPG retailing.

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