In-Pocket, Phone Beaconing: Tapping into the Store Shopper

Beacons are about to cause yet another new twist on in-store shopping.

We know from various research studies that even though many people use their phones while they shop in stores, many also do not.

A novel in-store approach shown at the NRF conference and expo this week highlighted how beacons can tap into mobile phones in a pocket or purse and leverage location information along with past behaviors to customize nearby on-screen displays.

Those displays are on large store screens, not phone screens. The twist here is that the consumer never looks at their phone during the entire shopping process.

The idea is to use beacon-triggered location information to provide highly targeted information that helps a shopper, without that consumer ever having to use their phone.

The beacon-enabled platform I saw at the NRF Big Show this week was created by SapientNitro and is initially targeted to specialty retailers.



Many beacon implementations involve the sending of beacon-triggered messages, such as ads, discounts or coupons, when a shopper nears a particular product or aisle.

The SapientNitro approach is the exact opposite, with no messaging ever being sent to a phone, even though it has been beaconed.

“It recognizes the app coming into the store,” said Ryan Scott, vice president, strategy and platforms, at SapientNitro, who demonstrated the system for me.

The large screen in the demonstration played a video highlighting a particular product or product category based on the profile of the person approaching the screen.

I’ve seen other similar displays that use in-screen cameras to quickly identify the general demographics of a person looking at the screen and the adjust the images accordingly. In that case, personal information about the viewer is typically unknown and the screen activity is not customized until viewing starts.

In the SapientNitro display, a Gimbal beacon at a store entrance triggers the store’s app to identify the loyalty profile of the shoppers in advance of approaching a screen, since the app is linked into a store’s customer management system and loyalty program.

Such permissions would be included when the app is initially downloaded by the consumer, with the option to opt in or out.

The screen Scott demonstrated was also interactive, so that the shopper, presumably now seeing a relevant item, could tap the screen to see different colors and sizes in real time.

Scott said that as a cart is built, it sends a message to a nearby sales associate’s mobile device so that the salesperson sees what the consumer is shopping for and can offer assistance, if needed, since they also know the location of the customer.

The overall concept of the beaconed screen activity is to enhance the in-store experience and provide more relevant videos or product displays for each shopper.

Scott suggested that a person looking at their phone while shopping in a store can interrupt the shopping moment and once a person starts phone searching they can quickly be distracted from their initial item of interest.

Beacons are taking proximity marketing to a whole new level.

Welcome to the start of in-pocket beaconing.


Check out the coming MediaPost IoT: Beacons conference agenda for Chicago Feb. 10.


2 comments about "In-Pocket, Phone Beaconing: Tapping into the Store Shopper".
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  1. Devika Girish from MobStac, January 15, 2015 at 6:47 p.m.

    Very informative post Chuck. Over the last year, a number of brands have dipped their toes in proximity marketing campaigns. These campaigns have left marketers across various verticals, well aware of the enormous potential offered to them and the subsequent benefits, such as an improved customer journey or increase in ROI, offered by such proximity campaigns. But tapping into the mobile phones in the pockets of consumers and leveraging location information along with past behaviors to customize nearby on-screen displays sounds damn exciting as it opens doors to a whole new world of opportunities. We’ve discussed a few success secrets that will help marketers ace their next proximity marketing campaign here:

  2. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, January 15, 2015 at 7:14 p.m.

    Thank you very much, Devika. This is still quite early in the stages of proximity marketing, with new beacon location innovations coming from everywhere.

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