Macy's Mobile Connection Conundrum: Customers Won't Work Very Hard To Watch Your Commercials

When Macy's rolled out its mobile Backstage Pass program on February 24, the goal was straightforward. Customers would see QR codes placed throughout the stores, and scanning them with their phones would bring up a promotional video—an effect that could also be realized through a text message request. But it's forcing the chain to confront the mobile connection conundrum head-on.

The videos—bandwidth hogs that they are—have to be able to quickly be seen on the consumer's phone. But how? Some Macy's stores offer customer Wi-Fi access, but not all. With (quite legitimate) mobile security concerns the talk of the Web, getting consumers to log into a store's wireless network won't be that easy. Those security fears are atop the fact that many consumers won't know how to sign into Macy's Wi-Fi, even if they want to.

Also, of the few consumers who are in a Wi-Fi-friendly store and are comfortable with the perceived security risks of connecting to a retailer's Wi-Fi and know how to connect and know that connecting to Wi-Fi is even an option, how many will want to take the minute and bother to do so for what are commercials? Granted, they are commercials starring the likes of Bobbi Brown, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Greg Norman, Rachel Roy, Irina Shabayeva and Martha Stewart, but they are commercials nonetheless.

If the Macy's in question happens to not support Wi-Fi, customers must look at the video using whatever signal they get from their carriers. This, of course, assumes that they can get any signal at all. In many Macy's—including the chain's New York flagship store—getting a signal is difficult, especially if it's deep inside an inside mall.

Assuming the customer gets a connection, the one thing Macy's will never see is consistency of video performance. Clearly, with different handsets and carriers and bandwidth congestion, some experiences will be a lot more painful than others.

Then there is the issue with reading the QR codes.Many consumers walking into Macy's may not have a mobile application capable of reading QR codes, may have such an app but not know it and may very well not be experienced in using that app. The "it's just point and click" belief is wonderfully not true. A steady aim and knowing how to position the image is not all that intuitive.

But Macy's has that covered. According to the statement Macy's issued announcing the program: "As QR codes gain popularity in the United States, many users will need a quick tutorial on how they work. To assist in the education process, Macy's created a fun and informative demonstration video called 'How to Use Macy's Backstage Pass.' The video will be accessible to customers on the go by texting "learn" to MACYS (62297) or on www.macys.com/findyourmagic."

Wow. And I wondered how many would make the effort to log onto Macy's Wi-Fi.

For those consumers who don't have such an app, Macy's is ready there, too. "If users don't already have a QR code reader application installed, Macy's will offer a free QR reader download by texting 'reader' to MACYS (62297). For shoppers who may not want to download a QR reader, the videos are also accessible by texting the keyword found beside each Backstage Pass to MACYS (62297) and the exclusive content will be sent as an MMS (multimedia message)."

The idea of giving consumers an in-store-only experience that brings them information only available on a mobile device is a powerful initiative, and Macy's should be applauded for this. (Note: It can also be seen later on, on the Macy's site, but that's hardly compelling. That had darn better be a really awesome commercial.) That said, chains really need to focus on making such experiences as effortless as possible.

In the alternative, retailers need to radically up the incentives. If people viewing these videos got $25 gift certificates (for a limited time), that would certainly cause these apps to be downloaded and the consumers would take the minute to log onto the network.

Remember that these efforts need only happen once. Some 18 or so months from now, a very high percentage of consumers will have these readers on their phones and they will be comfortable using both them and Wi-Fi. Until then, however, we need to give them reasons to try these functions, which are out of their comfort zone, especially when they merely wanted to have a relaxing shopping trip.

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