Merchant: Ace Hardware
Size: 4,700 locations
Bottom Line: Adding location-based technology to a mobile app encourages online shoppers to make purchases in-store.
The trend toward consumers making purchases on the web isn’t slowing down — with 70% of those surveyed in 2013 reporting that they prefer shopping online — however national hardware chain Ace Hardware is doing its part to bring online shoppers back in-store. The company has recently debuted a new mobile iPhone application, meant to enhance the shopping experience and encourage customers to complete their transaction at local Ace Hardware locations.
“It allows the consumer to find more information about what they’re standing in front of, the product they’re looking at,” says Mark Lowe, Ace’s e-commerce marketing, and digital department manager. “For example, if I’m looking at a drill, per say, and I need some more information on it, I can easily scan it with the app. I can pull up ratings, reviews, see what other consumers are saying about it, even some of the key features that may not be listed on the shelf. Things like that give customers a better idea of what they’re looking at.”
Shoppers can view circulars for their local stores through the mobile app, and they can create to-do lists to remind themselves which products they should purchase on subsequent shopping trips to Ace. An integrated barcode scanner allows consumers to scan UPC codes on products in-store. Lowe says the company has also integrated how-to articles and videos into the app as a way to reach DIY-ers on a personal level.
“We also have everything in terms of the product buying cycle — everything from the product page all the way through checkout,” Lowe says. “So a consumer can research online, go to their local Ace, or if they choose to do so, they can buy it right within the app.”
Ace’s new mobile app also includes a store locator feature, which Lowe says is more robust than what people are used to seeing. In addition to providing consumers with information about the location, hours, and phone number of the nearest Ace Hardware store, the application also shows the specific brands that each store carries, the events that each store is planning, and the services that each store offers.
“With over 4,000 stores, consumers do need to find out which one is closest to them, especially when they’re on-the-go,” Lowe says. “We’ve just launched a program that we call in-store pickup. It’s just getting off the ground here at Ace, but what it does is it allows consumers to check inventory at their local store, see if it’s in stock. If it is, they can just go in and purchase it. Or if they want to, they can purchase it online and have it available for pick-up in-store as soon as the same day. We’re giving customers insight into what’s available at their local Ace.”
The app also integrates with Ace’s rewards program, which means members can log in, change their settings, and view their last five purchases using their mobile phones. Non-members can sign up for the program within the app.
In deciding which hyperlocal feature to include on the new mobile app, Ace looked at quantitative customer research. The company then built on top of a foundation that had begun with the creation of its first mobile website back in 2010.
“We started with that because it really allowed our mobile presence to build to any device that was out there. But this was our next step in really giving that ability to people who prefer to use apps to connect with the brand,” Lowe says.
Although hardware stores have traditionally been known for their old-school customer service and personal attention, Lowe is hoping that the introduction of Ace’s new mobile app will attract the type of customer who’s used to researching and purchasing products online.
“I’m not sure if it’s really combating showrooming, or if it’s just enhancing the experience of what they’re experiencing in-store,” Lowe says.
The introduction of a mobile app with store locator features isn’t Ace’s first foray into location-based marketing. The company has been partnering with The Weather Channel on a weather-triggered mobile ad campaign since 2010. Consumers who use The Weather Channel’s mobile app while standing near Ace stores are served relevant ads based on the current temperature or weather conditions. For example, when it’s sunny and warm in Chicago, Ace will serve ads that feature fertilizer or other lawn maintenance products. Clicking on an ad brings up Ace’s mobile site, where the consumer can quickly locate the nearest Ace location.
In gauging the effectiveness of any hyperlocal initiative, Lowe says it’s important to look at high-level metrics. In this case, he’s paying close attention to the number of app downloads. Ace’s new mobile app is fully tagged with Omniture, which allows the company to understand how consumers are using its technology and what type of adjustments should be made during future app updates.
“We want customers to be able to interact with Ace how, when, and where they want. Whether that’s in the store, at home in front of their computer, or on the go when they’re with family. We’re looking for ways to do that both through our physical website, AceHardware.com, our mobile properties, and our social properties,” Lowe says. “There’s a lot of ways that consumers are connecting and interacting with brands these days, and we want to be where they’re at.”
Ace Hardware is being proactive in its fight against online retail outposts, providing customers who shop in-store with all the same tools they’d find when shopping online, including access to product reviews and reference materials. Because hardware and building supplies are still more likely to be purchased in-store than online — thanks in part to the size and bulk of these products — Ace is doubling up on its store locator features. The easier it is for a customer to find a local Ace location nearby, the less likely that customer is to make his or her purchase online.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.