Can Oxfam’s mobile donation strategy help offset its sliding retail sales?

As Oxfam reveals sales at its high street stories slid 3 per cent to £72.5m last year, could a focus on mobile donations and innovation help offset growing competition from discounters such as Poundland and Aldi?

Yesterday (11 August) the charity revealed that sales at its 700 hundred high street stores dropped, dragging donations down by 2 per cent. In response to the slump, Oxfam’s trading director Andrew Horton called the charity market “very competitive with the high street” and claimed organisation's "have to think like you are a retailer and consider what’s on the shop floor”.

It's a challenge the charity hopes mobile can help it solve. Oxfam is experimenting with Traces, a new app created by neuroscientist Beau Lotto that allows users to access digital content on their smartphones by responding to messages at physical locations.

In a bid to reach a new audiences, Oxfam is using the app to ttap into its community and create a ‘virtual floating bubble’, which can only be accessed by users of the app who pass one of 650 high street stores carrying out the experiment. Once opened, a one-minute video communicating the charity’s work is played, followed by a link to a mobile optimised donation page.

“We’ve never done something like this before and we’ve never really tapped in to location in this way,” Oxfam's digital donations lead Matt Jerwood told The Drum. “We are very aware it’s a new product on the market and the user base is limited but we are keen to learn from it anyway”.

The activity follows a series of mobile-led donation drives. Earlier in the year Oxfam ran an NFC trial in select shop windows and equipped some of its street teams with NFC-enabled wristbands to drive engagement among the public. While the activity didn’t spurn “much of a brilliant response”, due to lack of consumer awareness around the technology and poor reaction outside Oxfam’s main appeals, the charity is still planning to focus on increasing mobile donations for the duration of 2015.

“A big part of the strategy at the moment is to just focus on mobile,” said Jerwood. “That’s where the main focus of my work this year is – how do we make things easier for people to engage with us on mobile.

“Things like VR and AR we are interested in and we are keen to see if there’s a way for us to talk to new supporters and reach new supporters, but not in a way that’s too expensive for us – we have to get that balance really right”.

Oxfam is hoping the activity will drive more footfall through its high street stores nationwide, as well as let the public learn more about the charity’s work going forward. Jerwood added that Oxfam is keen to experiment further when it comes to bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds to aid its struggling retail locations.

“With things like this added dimension [of Traces] and bringing a physical shop location into a digital environment, it would be exciting to know what more we can do in bringing what’s physical and offline in to the digital space. I think we are interested in seeing how this goes”.

More mobile work is planned around Oxfam’s summer festival campaign #biglipsync, which asked revellers to paint their lips green and share the images on social media.

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