Mobile Shoppers & the Act of Beaconing

Beaconing (verb): To lead and direct customers to specific areas and products using small, radio-transmitting devices called beacons, typically battery operated. Process includes messaging, often in the form of text messages and full-screen ads and offers, generally managed by retailer or brand and intended to provide useful, relevant and valuable information. Mobile shopper agrees in advance to receive such information. Overall goal is to enhance the shopping experience.

Though based on a small piece of hardware transmission capability, beaconing is about to become more an activity than a technology.

Beaconing has been the missing piece in the mobile shopping puzzle.

The technology is essentially invisible and can work without the mobile consumer having to do anything, usually a major hurdle for any mobile shopping technology.

The point is that even if shoppers are being made more aware of various mobile technologies being deployed in and around stores, it doesn’t mean they need or want to know the details about the technology itself.

  • For example, RetailMeNot has large posters in malls, some hanging from ceilings, promoting discounts with directions on how to text to download the coupon app. The posters don’t describe how the app works based on location or dwell time near a store, but rather focus on the value to the consumer: instantly receiving coupons to save money. People get that.
  • At entrances to some Simon malls are signs on how to download the Simon Mall app, which explains how sharing location can help shoppers find the best deals in the mall, along with its free phone power charging stations. Nearby shoppers there are soon to be beaconed via Mobiquity.
  • Double-decker buses that run along London’s Regent Street promote the Regent Street app, which is being used to beacon passersby into any of the 100 stores on the street with mobile messaging targeted to each person’s previously stated interests.

It’s not the technology that’s the draw; it’s the value provided to the shopper.

While many geofencing and mobile check-in approaches have facilitated the targeting of mobile shoppers in and around stores, there have been inherent limits in and around specific products and departments.

Beaconing is less about the actual beacon and more about the overall shopping experience it can cause.

Most shoppers have never been beaconed so far, since beacon deployment is just starting to graduate from the trial phases.

Over the weekend, I took a shopping companion who had never been beaconed to Lord & Taylor in Boston.

I asked her to download the SnipSnap app, one of the apps that works with the beacons deployed by Swirl at Lord & Taylor stores, which I have written about here (Lord & Taylor, Hudson’s Bay Go Big on Beacons).

Then I observed.

As we neared the store, she received a text message on her iPhone 5 offering a discount at the store, which we entered.

I watched as she received a message, opened it and then looked about the store for Michael Kors handbags, just a few feet away.

“That’s what the ad was for,” she informed me. I didn’t tell her it was an ad.

After a few minutes, I had lost track of my shopping companion, who I found several departments away, looking at shoes.

“This where it sent me,” she informed me.

Her initial perception was that the messages and deals offered were routing her to various locations or departments in the store. She had been beaconed.

Rather than a one-time offer based on being in a particular location, the beaconing was a process of ongoing interactivity and continuing discovery. Not to mention the special discounts she was offered for making a purchase in the designated department.

Beaconing is very new and has the potential to be very big.

Unless the industry totally blows it.

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