The ‘physical cookie’ created by Finnish marketing agency TBWA\Helsinki for real estate developer Sponda enables customers and shopping centre retailers to get the most out of a routine outing to the stores, by means of a simple ‘key chain’ you can attach to your other keys or slip into your pocket.

‘Physical Cookie’ Set to Compete with iBeacons?

The quest for innovation to enhance the customer’s purchasing experience at bricks and mortar stores has led Finnish real estate developer Sponda to offer customers at its shopping malls a loyalty programme in the form of a physical cookie. All you have to do is to put the cookie, which is about the size of a key chain, into your pocket, and you can then embark on your own personalised shopping experience. This accessory works in the same way as cookies in the online environment. It has an RFID chip which interacts with the electronic readers inside the stores. The system identifies you simply as a person carrying a ‘VIP-key’, as Sponda has named the cookie, records when you enter a given store, and collects data on your ongoing behaviour and preferences. Once your data has been analysed, the store can make ‘smart’ use of it, making you customised offers displayed on digital advertising screens as you pass by.

VIP-key customers spent 22% more time at the mall

During a test period lasting four months, over 14,000 customers at the CityCenter shopping mall in Helsinki were given a ‘VIP-key’. They did not have to register or give any personal information: the physical cookie works anonymously, geared exclusively to the customer’s real-time behaviour so as to make personalised offers that are displayed on the screens inside and outside the shops s/he most frequents. These messages change in real time according to the customer’s behaviour at any given moment. TBWA claims that shoppers carrying the device spent 21.7% more time at the shopping centre, which the Sponda team feels is a conclusive result. The cookie can also ‘guide’ customers towards areas in a store that they might be interested in by displaying electronic messages on the mall’s digital screens. All these practices are intended to help to optimise the retail space and the way people move around the shopping centre.


A cookie that you just slip into your pocket

Smart loyalty solution a winner for store owners

The VIP-key system has been welcomed by the shopping mall stores as it has succeeded in raising their profile among shoppers considerably. The TBWA/Sponda system enables them to benefit from the flow of people circulating through the shopping centre, as the ‘smart’ technology directs them to stores which then make personalised offers. Another advantage for stores is that the physical cookie functions as a ‘new generation’ loyalty card, which gives their marketing strategy a head start by identifying their customers in real time. This contrasts with traditional loyalty cards, which basically track customers only after they have made a transaction. With the physical cookie, store staff can access customer history upstream and so target their offers more appropriately. There is of course nothing new about creating a personalised shopping experience: the ‘iBeacon’ concept developed by Apple already allows stores to geo-locate shoppers and send them personalised notifications. However, Sponda argues that the VIP-key differentiates itself from beacon systems and mobile apps generally in some important ways. Customers find the low-opt-in system straightforward and extremely easy to use and stores are able to target their messages with a high degree of accuracy. Given the very encouraging results from the trial period, Sponda says it is looking at a number of scenarios using physical cookies going forward, but for the moment is not revealing exactly what these will be.

By Anthéa Delpuech