Retailers Are Offering Free Phone Charging to Get Customers in the Door

  • Customer survey feature giving retailers shopping-habits data
  • Users spend twice as long in stores with stations, study shows

Retailers are starting to capitalize on what’s become a nuisance for most people -- finding a mobile phone with little to no battery life and no place to plug it in.

Neiman Marcus Group, Nordstrom Inc. and Under Armour Inc. are among 140 retailers that have already signed on with ChargeItSpot, which sets up stations inside stores, stadiums, casinos and hospitals and rejuices more than 2 million phones annually. Now, the Philadelphia-based company is adding a survey feature for stores called QuickPoll that asks consumers about their shopping experience as they unplug phones from the charging stations.

The technology comes as some retailers have started closing stores to cope with slow traffic and shaky holiday sales, hurt partly by consumers opting to shop more online. Macy’s Inc. reported disappointing sales in the holiday period and plans to close 100 stores, 68 this year. Sears Holdings Corp. also said it will close 150 locations. ChargeItSpot stations may be part of a solution, said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Poonam Goyal. Customer feedback from QuickPoll may help retailers make better product marketing decisions, she said.

“If the customer already knows where a station is, that first mover advantage is huge,” Goyal said. “I will look for that store, whether I’m interested in shopping there or not. While I’m there, you have my attention. This is an excellent way to get foot traffic for both new and existing customers.”

The free stations work like this: Customers lock their devices into one of eight units using their phone number and another question as security. Before the door opens for the customer to retrieve the phone, a screen appears with the optional QuickPoll survey. Users are asked three multiple-choice questions designed by the retailer to learn about anything from in-store experience to likelihood of referrals and customer loyalty program enrollment. The retailer can see the answers in real time after the survey is submitted.

Even though it’s optional, ChargeItSpot has seen a 70 percent to 90 percent completion rate of the QuickPoll surveys during a pilot phase with eight clients, including Neiman Marcus and mall operator PREIT. Other feedback gauges, like take-home surveys at the bottom of receipts or e-mailed questionnaires with sweepstakes incentives haven’t been as effective in terms of response rates, said Doug Baldasare, founder and chief executive officer of ChargeItSpot.

“It’s pretty polarized; the person who chooses to respond either had a really bad or really incredible experience,” Baldasare said. “What we’re really excited about is this is the first way to capture a response from the consumer while they’re still in the store.”

Philadelphia-based PREIT collected over 3,700 responses in one week from the 24 charging stations deployed in some of its malls, gathering data ranging from preferred retailers to social shopping behavior and its digital mall rewards program, said spokeswoman Heather Crowell.

“The data helps inform merchandising and marketing decisions across our portfolio,” Crowell said.

Spending More

Besides offering shoppers the benefit of a free phone charge, retailers equipped with the stations saw customers spend more than twice as much time in the store and about 29 percent more at the register on average, according to a 2014 study by consumer analytics provider GfK. Baldasare declined to say how much retailers and other clients pay for the units, though he said they report as much as 11 times the return on their investment based on the bigger basket size.

A dying battery is a pet peeve of many people, said analyst Goyal. “If simple fixes like this help recoup traffic or just keep existing traffic, that’s a win-win.”

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