Commentary

Hey Cheapskate Sports Fan! Buy A Real Seat, Why Dontcha?

One of the unexpected consequences of proximity marketing in stores and venues may be that merchants can have automated and ongoing conversations with a customer about her movements in a store. iBeacons and other proximity networks have the capacity to allow behaviors in a venue to trigger any number of messages. “Hey, lady, don’t look at this bargain basement lingerie. The nice stuff is in the back section.”

Something like that is already starting at sports arenas, where fans in the cheap seats are getting offers to upgrade as they enter the venue. According to a report at Bloomberg, the Golden State Warriors are now greeting some patrons as they near their nosebleed seats with a smartphone ping that offers an upgrade. The model started last season at Major League Baseball parks, but it was more of an option for smartphone users to access the seat upgrade feature in their MLB.com app.

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Now the use of proximity beacons allows an arena to know your whereabouts, your seat location, and offer an upgrade even before you get there. This program at Oracle Arena is being administered by Sonic Notify. As Bloomberg points out, the model must vault multiple hurdles: customers having the necessary app, with Bluetooth on and in the right mode, and being opted-in to the communications. So there is that.

But the basic concept is intriguing, even if the scenarios may be narrow. Any interactions with customers in the store or venue that feel like pestering surely will keep the consumer from opting in, so the merchant can only be so snooty before alienating people. Still in the case of a seat upgrade, a prompt to upgrade is more welcome than most implicit suggestions that your first purchase choice was misguided.

But imagine an in-store app working as a shopping companion. It might know both where you are in the store and what items you have in your hand. “Oh, this scarf would go great with that blouse,” it might offer. My wife is always asking that Web sites and apps make suggestions about mixing and matching items she likes with others in a store. An in-venue shopping advisor could use proximity and other item sensors to fully personalize the experience.

There is a fine line between servicing and pestering. Mobile technologies are about to help us locate that line. 

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