Mobile Commerce Application Helps Hardware Store Customers Find Products on the Shelf

An Ace Hardware dealer bets that a mobile application customers can use to create shopping lists and locate products on store shelves will increase sales.

The Project :: Deploy software that allows shoppers to use their cell phones to find products on Ace Hardware shelves, as well as receive mobile alerts and coupons.

The Business Case :: Customer service has always been the top priority for Rick Baalmann, whose company, Bamm, owns and operates four Ace Hardware stores in the St. Louis area. And while the hardware business is in his blood—he likes to joke that he was “born right next to the key machine” in his dad’s Montana store—it’s new technology that gets his heart pumping. He implemented a perpetual inventory system ahead of his peers in the 1980s and was awaiting the arrival of his iPad in April. “I’m a dreamer when it comes to technology,” Baalmann says.

But when he heard about Aisle411’s mobile product location service, he saw down-to-earth value in its potential to increase sales. The software, which works with all mobile devices, lets customers call a toll-free number, state a location and the store, ask for an item and receive within seconds the location of the product. It also enables customers to create mobile shopping lists and delivers coupons and alerts to those who opt in.

First Steps :: The Aisle411 system integrates interactive voice and text messaging with store data. To get this system running last December, Baalmann and his team had to make sure his stores’ product location codes were all accurate. Every four-foot section in the store has a location number and every product is assigned at least one location in the point-of-sale (POS) system—sometimes more, like solder that’s in both tools and plumbing. “That was the heaviest lifting we had to do,” he says.

He also worked with Aisle411’s mobile messaging team to create monthly Ace Helpful Hints. The day before daylight saving time began, an alert reminded customers to change their clocks and offered a dollar off smoke detectors and batteries. In the spring, customers will read that it’s the perfect time to overseed the lawn (spread additional seed for thicker grass). “We’re trying to find things that the customer will see value in us reminding them of,” Baalmann says.

Those who have used the mobile tools like them, adds Baalmann, who pays a monthly fee for the service. Later this year, he plans to dig into the usage. “At some point—12 to 18 months—we’ll be able to put a number on that value.”

Twelve other ACE Hardware stores in the St. Louis area are using the mobile marketing feature and a couple more are using the product locator, says Baalmann, but he thinks usage is likely to grow across the national dealer-owned hardware company. Baalmann meets with local dealers monthly to plan ads and share successes—whether it’s a new gift card or an emerging technology. Yearly, the heads of all dealer groups nationwide meet to do the same.

What to Watch Out For :: Every month, Baalmann updates the product location codes—all 30,000 of them. He runs a report in the POS system, converts it to a Microsoft Excel file, and exports the data to Aisle411. It’s time-consuming, so Baalmann is working with the vendor to integrate its software with his POS system. But the biggest challenge is getting customers to embrace the service. Baalmann markets it in his stores through displays and by having associates explain it to shoppers. “As we get more people in [our] dealer group on board, we can incorporate it into our advertising,” he says.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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