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A Super-Charged Idea
Four years ago while entrepreneur Doug Baldasare was completing his MBA, he came up with a really good idea. He was walking around Miami with a few friends trying to find Scarface on DVD. They decided to split up and look for it, using their phones to sync up later. Then they realized their phones were either dead or dying. Standing in front of a retail store he thought, “Why can’t I just walk in there and charge my phone?”
He took the idea further, thinking about how advantageous it may be for retailers to have a phone charging station to draw people in, and then shoppers could lock their phones up in a charging station and spend more time shopping. “So I leveraged the second year of my business program to do research, write a business plan, graduated in May 2012, then launched the first product August 2012,” he told us. He became the founder and CEO of ChargeItSpot, maker of cell phone charging stations located inside retail stores nationwide, solving two major problems. “Consumers are constantly running low on phone batteries and we need them so much everyday, so when they get low on battery life, we become anxious. The other problem is that traditional brick-and-mortar stores are dying to get more people to come into the stores and buy more stuff,” he said.
The premise was that people were going to shop and spend more money because of these stations, but Baldasare knew he had to prove it. He hired GfK, a world-renowned shopper insights research firm, to independently measure the sales lift ChargeItSpot brought to retail. The results? They found that the stations more than doubled dwell times, increased basket size by 29 percent and produced a 54 percent lift in conversion rates. “It was an investment we had to make,” he said. “Those findings got us from one client to 20 national clients in 19 states, and our team is approaching 50. We’ve also raised $5.5 million in venture funding.”
How Does It Work?
The ChargeItSpot kiosks were designed by the same team that built the technology that turned into Redbox, both hardware and software. The ChargeItSpot form factor stays consistent to help the company scale quicker, but each gets “made over” to match the retailer’s brand. The units are wrapped with an identity, and each locker’s Plexiglass window LED light reflects the brand. For example, Bergdorf Goodman uses lavender and white, while Neiman Marcus uses a yellow and orange color palette (the colors alternate based on locker availability). The units have eight lockers, each containing every type of phone charger, made easier by phone carriers (except Apple) standardizing on the micro USB format. “It’s really critical for a retailer to make sure these fit seamlessly within the environment, both from a look and feel perspective and an operational perspective,” Baldasare told us.
The units also have smart charging boards that charge each phone to exact capacity at maximum power unique to that phone. The smart boards send alerts if something is not working properly or not successfully connected. For example, if someone starts a session, opens the locker and closes it, but does not insert their phone to charge, the locker is freed up for someone else to use.
Another smart feature? A camera snaps a photo of anyone using the lockers, so if someone tries to open a locker who isn’t the original user, the system can lock that person out after a certain number of tries. A customer service team can match the right person up with the original photo, in case they get locked out of the system (the door can be remotely popped open). While the customer service team compares photos, a built-in microphone and speaker allows them to ensure the user that the locker will open momentarily. These measures ensure the retailer never has to worry about any issues related to the ChargeItSpot stations.
How To Use It:
Enter your 10-digit mobile number on the touch screen. (The ChargeItSpot station also asks for email addresses and allows you to opt in to that retailer’s promotions.)
You get an instant text, which is a call to action to download the ChargeItSpot app.
The touch screen prompts you to select an image you like best for a second layer of security (these items are things you can buy from the retailer, which provides the retailer with better knowledge of consumer preferences).
The ChargeItSpot app automatically alerts you the next time your phone battery is below 30 percent, and then helps you find ChargeItSpot stations near you.
The ChargeItSpot app also links retailer promotions, so when you come in to use the station, you also get discounts from the retailer.
People Like It
“Many retailers don’t know who’s coming through their stores, and this is just another way to get to know their customers,” commented Baldasare. “Shoppers are super-appreciative of the retailers who provide the service, so we’ve found they’re willing to give their 20-character email address in exchange for that free phone charge.”
ChargeItSpot runs capacity reports to see how often the lockers are used and how often they’re filled to capacity. “We were just at the Grammy’s,” Baldasare told us. “We had eight units there and those things stayed full with lines forming. There was a party with an open bar and food, but people were just standing around our charging stations, waiting to charge their phones.”
The solution has been rolled out in large department stores like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales, as well as other well-known retailers like Under Armour, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, Staples – and even in big casinos, like Caesar’s and Harrah’s.
“As brick and mortar retailers compete with more and more channels through which customers buy, they want to create an environment that is either insanely useful or irresistible,” said Baldasare. “I would put us under the useful category. It’s a great utility for the consumer who needs their phone charged, and it’s a differentiator for customer experience. When people invest their time to go into stores rather than buying online, you want to welcome and reward them, and give them something different and special. We found many of our clients are using us to create that differentiating factor that you can’t get when you’re shopping on your phone or online.”
(This article was originally written by Angela Diffly and published on SMB Retail Technology News)