Duane Reade Gets Lots Of Non-Obvious Value From A Mobile Game

Duane Reade, the largest drugstore chain in New York City, announced on Tuesday (Feb. 5) it would be trying an unusual mobile effort: It is participating in an elaborate Google mobile-fueled virtual reality game. At one level, this is just silly fun. But from a retail mobile perspective, a lot more is going on here.

The game, called Ingress, is from Google's Niantic Labs and involves hiding barcodes throughout the stores. From the chain's perspective, is it about getting shoppers to walk inside its 250 stores? No, although the game certainly does that. Is it about getting shoppers to not merely enter but have to go deep into the store, searching through shelves of products to find the game barcodes? Yes, but that's not the biggest element.

The real payback for Duane Reade, owned by Walgreens, is about changing customer mobile behaviors. In English, that means getting shoppers comfortable with scanning barcodes and interacting with the resultant data. It will increase participation in more explicit mobile programs. This will mean more price comparisons—which Duane Reade is confident it will usually win—and, soon, it will soften resistance to mobile payments.

To a limited extent, this effort follows one of the lessons the industry learned from Starbucks. Namely, by getting customers comfortable with a new interaction method slowly, you'll likely find usage rates soar when you ultimately launch. At Starbucks, it was a plastic stored-value card (the Starbucks Card) with a barcode on the back. After years of using these cards, getting customers to move to a mobile app that displays the very same barcode was much easier.

In the same way, if Duane Reade can use a wide range of creative—and, hopefully, fun—tactics to get shoppers comfortable with in-store mobile interactions, an eventual mobile payment launch should prove much more effective.

A bit of financial icing: It seems that the Google team has been tasked with placing the barcodes among the participating stores. In short, the effort—whether in terms of financial outlay or taking up associate time—appears to be absolutely minimal. Gotta love that type of ROI.