Beacons Pop up in Stores Ahead of Holidays

From American Eagle to Apple Stores, beacons are popping up everywhere. Are they a shopper’s best friend or another pesky Big Brother monitoring our every move?

The square or rectangular devices, smaller than a smartphone, can hang on a wall or be placed on a machine and communicate with your phone via Bluetooth signals. Accessed through apps you download to your smartphone, beacon technology can do everything from guide you to the correct airport terminal to turn on your coffee maker as you sleepily enter the kitchen. In retail, beacons aim to entice you to spend money. As you enter a store, your smartphone might light up with a sale alert. Stand in the dress section for a while and a coupon may pop up for something on a nearby hanger.

“The most important thing a shopper might need to get access to when they go into a store are ratings and reviews, coupons and promotions,” said Erik McMillan, CEO of Shelfbucks, which is working with video game retailer GameStop and others on its beacon marketing. Beacons give customers that research right there in the store ? when they have their wallets and are looking to buy.

Macy’s Inc. has installed beacons in all of its 840 department stores; other chains such as Kohl’s are testing them in some locations. McMillan likens beacons to the early days of retail websites in the 1990s when “all of a sudden it got to the point that ‘you can’t not have a website’.” He predicts the technology will skyrocket from the 50,000 beacons in use now to between 5 million and 10 million next year.

The vast majority of shopping is still done in stores. E-commerce is fast-growing but accounts for only about 9 percent of total retail sales, according to Forrester Research. Beacons merge in-store shopping with mobile access to information ? and data shows they work.

Between July and September, 30 percent of shoppers who received a “push-ad” from an in-store beacon used that offer to buy something, according to a survey by Swirl, a marketing technology company that has worked with retailers such as Lord & Taylor, Hudson’s Bay, Alex and Ani, Kenneth Cole and Timberland to deploy beacons. Sixty percent of shoppers opened beacon-sent messages, and over half of those surveyed said they would do more holiday shopping at the stores as a result of their beacon experience.

Graham Uffelman, a 45-year-old New Yorker, said he bought Bluetooth headphones at Best Buy because of a deal he got via the Shopkick beacon marketing app.

“The app knew I was in the store and actually suggested a product I wanted,” he said. “The experience was great but also a little unnerving in the sense that the store knew who I was and that I was present in their location. It felt a little Big Brother-like.”

Read More