Walmart's Scan & Go Change Reminds Us How To Make Mobile Work

One of the many advantages of mobile payment is significantly expanding CRM reach, getting to know about a far greater percentage of all of a shopper's purchases. Nowhere is this more attractive than with Walmart, which has never had (and still doesn't) a traditional CRM. In the latest upgrade to the chain's Scan & Go mobile payment/self-checkout hybrid, Walmart takes this all-knowing tactic to the next level, giving shoppers a reason to scan physical receipts.

At its most simple level, the upgrade merely allows shoppers to scan physical receipts from Walmart (more precisely, to scan the QR codes printed on such receipts) to receive an electronic version. For the shopper, it's a nice way to reduce paper clutter and also organize purchases in one place. For Walmart, though, it's much more.

Scan & Go is currently only offered in a tiny percentage of Walmart's stores. This is a wonderful way to let the chain learn about a healthy percentage of those non-mobile purchases and add them into a shopper's CRM profile.

Of course, the shopper here isn't literally scanning the dead-tree receipt. The QR code simply accesses a database and returns the purchases associated with that receipt. On the shopper's perception side, it generates a digital copy much more quickly and much more crisply. From the retail IT side, this allows precise and sophisticated matching of every item with that shopper. Contrast that with the infinitely less accurate results from an actual scanned receipt coupled with even today's best character recognition apps.

Another nice advantage of the QR approach: competitive obstacles. If a rival chain wanted to incentivize its shoppers to bring in their Walmart receipts to offer the same paper-less convenience, the QR code would likely reveal nothing. Walmart Lab's solely in-house development (OK, after they acquire the development firm) certainly has mastered leveraging the pluses of proprietary.

The latest upgrade offers a few other small enhancements, according to a report from Mobile Commerce Daily. One is another nice bit of camouflage CRM-database-boosting. When shoppers purchase a qualifying DVD or Blu-ray disc using Scan & Go, the story said, the customer receives a digital copy of the content at VUDU, Walmart's quite-a-bit-less-than-a-screaming-success video streaming service.

From a pure marketing perspective, this offers a dual benefit. It gives movie-purchasers at Walmart a reason to try (and even just hear about) VUDU. Given that Scan & Go is getting a lot of experimentation among eligible Walmart shoppers—and VUDU, candidly, isn't—it's a win for this Walmart property.

At the same time, it gives the large audience of Walmart shoppers who buy or rent videos a good reason to do it via Scan & Go. A nice win-win for marketing.

For IT data—which eventually gets to marketing anyway—it adds the very-revealing list of entertainment purchases to those expanding CRM profiles.

Scan & Go's initial purpose also plays in perfectly with these enhancements. The world's largest retailer started with a simple observation: why try and deal with the immensely difficult and insecure world of completing payments within a mobile app when we already have a fully functional payment system within our self-checkout units?

This is the same rationale—even down to the planned use of QR codes—that is behind Walmart's still-in-development MCX multi-chain mobile payment system. The gem of the system, though, is the ability to deliver instant coupons in-aisle. For example, offering a $2-off coupon for Skippy peanut butter within four seconds of a shopper scanning Jif peanut butter.

This is great right away, operating at a basket-analysis level. Over time, as the CRM profiles exponentially expand, this could go way beyond great.

Walmart also deserves credit here—and it's Walmart Labs' efforts—to make sure that every Walmart benefit is married to at least two shopper benefits. In a conclusion that has often eluded Walmart, creating something that solely benefits the retailer isn't likely to be especially successful. To be blunt, if the chain doesn't lead with the real benefits to the shopper, the shoppers won't use it and the benefits never materialize for anyone.

This gets us to the problems facing almost every mobile payment system (Google Wallet, ISIS, PayPal, MCX, etc.), where shoppers have no particularly compelling reasons to change their behavior. Scan & Go delivers such benefits, which is why Scan & Go and Starbucks are the two most effective mobile packages in retail today.