JCPenney Uses Mobile As A Clever Way To Track Where Gifts Go

The elves at JCPenney have come up with something rather clever: a mobile app that allows for gift recipients to hear custom voice messages from a gift-giver. The recipient scans a QR code that is taped to the gift and instantly hears the gift-giver's voice relaying a holiday-friendly message. (In my family, it would something sweet like "Here are the ^#&! gloves you wanted. So where's the $50 you borrowed from me?")

The reason this idea has such potential is the chain is using the mobile device solely as a tool, where both JCPenney and the app quickly get out of the way and let the recipient and the gift-giver truly communicate. From a CRM perspective, it's clever for JCPenney because they set it up to force the system to call the gift-giver back to record the message.

Therefore, the chain can gather lots of mobile numbers for later messaging use and, depending on future tracking purposes, perhaps much more through in-store interactions. The first step, though, is to collect those numbers (of both the gift-giver and the recipient) and this is a wonderfully innocuous way to start.

Another CRM plus is that this allows for the system to start establishing relationships between customers, which might be very useful down the road, especially when integration with social campaigns is considered.

The program is called Santa Tags and the adhesive-backed tags are being given away to customers who ask for them.

Also, if the customer happened to purchase just one gift at the time the Santa Tag is issued, the system could associate that tag with that gift. When the recipient uses his/her mobile phone to access the message, the chain could finally have the Holy Grail of CRM: knowing both who bought the gift and who ended up receiving the gift—with potentially phone numbers and geographies for both.

"For the past year, we have been incorporating QR codes into our marketing and in-store signage and our Santa Tags are the latest example of how we are using this new technology to connect with customers with digital experiences that are personalized and impactful," said Kate Coultas, a JCPenney corporate communications senior manager. "Santa Tags are an easy way for gift givers to add a little extra fun to their gifts this season."

Beyond the CRM and future mobile possibilities, the chain is also considering using the various recorded messages for marketing programs. "After customers make their recording, they can opt to let JCPenney use their recorded message. We may look to post some of these 'voice of Christmas' (messages) online later this season, but these plans are still being finalized," Coultas said.For consumers who don't have a smartphone, JCPenney also has a number to call to record and, presumably, a number to call to help the recipient hear the message.

The messages can be as long as one minute and that leads to one of the program's initial shortcomings. Kudos to JCPenney for allowing 60-second messages, as some chains would have limited it to perhaps 10 seconds, enough time to barely wish the recipient happiness. A full minute gives plenty of room for creativity, with some gift-givers potentially wanting to include music or brief dialogue from a favorite film or a segment from a song or even sound effects. All any of that would have required would be a way for consumers to send a homemade audio file to JCPenney for integration. Alas, JCPenney has forbidden this, limiting the audio to whatever consumers can speak into a relatively low-quality mobile device microphone.

Coultas didn't fully explain why the chain is blocking such homegrown efforts, beyond saying: "Rather than asking customers to send us a .wav or .mp3 file. they can simply use their phone to make the recording." No argument that it's easier but if customers want to really make a memorable one-minute message, why not let them?

The only option is to create it anyway and then simply play it back into the phone or find a way to transmit the audio file into the phoneline. For someone wanting to craft a custom edited message, JCPenney certainly didn't make it easy.

That nitpick aside, this program is indeed quite clever. The procedure is straight-forward. The tag (not an RFID tag, but an old-fashioned gift tag) has two adhesive peel-off labels. By peeling off the front label, a QR code is revealed. A scan of that code with the phone reveals a prompt for the mobile phone number. Once received, the system calls that number to record the message. For non-smartphone customers, they'll be given a prompt to use the keypad to type in the digits below the QR code.

Once the message is recorded and approved, the gift-giver peels off the back adhesive and attaches the card to the gift. When the recipient scans the QR code on his/her smartphone, the message will play through the phone.

The message can be replayed as often as the recipients want, but only until Jan. 31. It's not clear what will happen to the messages after that date.

The tags are being given away only in-store and the chain stressed that "tags will not be shipped with online or mobile purchases" presumably because of supply limits. But the site did give one possible out for E-Commerce and mobile customers: "If you bring a gift purchased on or after Nov. 15 from or into a JCPenney store with your receipt, you may receive a JCP Santa Tag."

The Santa Tag program works well on so many levels. From the consumer's perspective, it's a free gift tag that allows for a personalized message. The consumer sees it as a pleasant way to enrich the holiday gift-giving experience. The chain gets the warm feelings benefit, plus a multitude of CRM and mobile information benefits, all at a very minimal cost. In terms of a clever mobile marketing program, this is one IT effort that is unlikely to get returned.