—By Matt O'Toole
Beacons, iBeacon, Bluetooth low energy devices…
Whatever you choose to call them, they’re one of today’s (and tomorrow’s) most intriguing shopper technologies, and they’re being integrated into retailers’ and brands’ tool boxes at an accelerating rate. They can elevate the shopper experience and ultimately elevate annual revenue, or at least that’s the hope. But as with most powerful things, this tech can be double-edged.
What Are Beacons? This small piece of hardware – often invisible to the shopper’s eye – is detectable by mobile phone via a downloaded app produced by the retailer, a brand or a third party, that’s capable of sending tailored offers based on location within the store. Or it prompts the device, such as launching their shopping list when they walk on-premise. While beacons are still in the experimental stage, ABI Research estimates 60 million beacon units in the market in the next five years!
It’s early to be touting the best ways to use this tech on a channel-by-channel basis, before it’s largely rolled out. But predicting some of the possible benefits and watch-outs of beacons based on 20/20 hindsight of other technologies and tactics at retail is not Mission Impossible.
Possible Shopper Benefits
· Automate everyday tasks with ease
- Have merchandise billed to the shopper’s credit card seamlessly via interaction with their mobile wallet or on-file information
- Instantly identify digital coupons or rewards points and apply at checkout without the shopper lifting a finger
- Have the scarf rack recommend pairing with the jacket the shopper just ordered online
· Content testing, analytics and conversion metrics to know what works
- Learn what messaging falls flat and what moves the needle with shoppers
- Refine the algorithm for recommending additional merchandise to better predict shoppers’ tastes
- Passively track shopper’s path through the store to better group commonly bundled items
All of these are plausible with beacons, and would be welcomed by shoppers as they enhance shopping in meaningful ways. The more the shopper feels like the retailer “gets them,” the more likely they are to reward that retailer with loyalty and return visits.
Reasons to Beware
· Shoppers feels “ harpooned” by every brand in the store
- The shopper walks from the grocery section to automotive section in a superstore and receives 32 exclusive offers, draining their battery life by 11% from all of the buzzing
- The retailer or brand doesn’t take time to install additional back-end infrastructure to improve to the shopping experience and instead, technology becomes the sixth touchpoint that the shopper is scrambling to opt-out of
· Pushing away potential beacon users with privacy concerns
- Sending an offer on cat food and ice cream because the retailer’s data shows that the shopper hasn’t had a date in three years
The first scenario is the possible danger of greed; the second would stem from a lack of respect for consumers. InMarket, a company that works with stores and brands to develop beacon-based programs, has already found that not surprisingly, “when the phone buzzes too much, consumers don’t come back and ultimately delete the app. They’re done with it.” Retailers and brands can avoid this by limiting the number of total messages pushed to shoppers – and more importantly, earning their trust by testing the new tech for positive experiences. As to the second scenario… see Facebook.
Virgin Airlines, Macy’s and Safeway are some of the first to use beacons. Although each is taking the technology down a different path, all of them are smartly leading by using beacons to enhance the experience they provide and treating the opportunity to fire more ads at shoppers as a secondary objective. These pioneers seem to be following the sage advice of “don’t talk about yourself too much on the first date.”
Matt O'Toole is an associate shopper marketing strategist based out of Momentum Chicago