Article Published by Mass Market Retailers

At the coffee shop, on the train, during lunch— today’s consumer shops everywhere. While not every hour spent browsing the virtual racks results in conversion, consumers are constantly reading up on products, moving slowly but surely down the funnel.

Research shows that when it comes time to make a purchase, consumers mostly prefer to shop in a brick-and-mortar store. After all, no online experience can convey what it feels like to touch or try out a product hands-on, or the satisfaction of leaving the store with the item in hand.

However, their hours spent flicking through retail apps and websites have changed the way consumers shop. Now, shoppers are far more likely to pull out their phone to read a review or watch a video, even when they’re standing directly in front of the product on the shelf.

What if retailers could provide this information directly to their customers while they walk through the aisles? With beacon technology store owners can do just that, integrating the best features of digital browsing into the physical shopping experience.

What Is Beaconing?

Beacons work like the GPS units consumers have in their cars, but are far more precise, connecting to devices up to about 150 feet away and determining their position within about three feet.

Placing these devices throughout a store can give retailers a sense of where their customers are in real time, tracking how long people linger at certain displays, what types of products they check out first and even serving up targeted promotions based on a person’s location in the aisle.

For example, a shopper who enters a hardware store and pauses in front of the table saws might receive a discount code for 10% off all power tools. (Of course, consumers must consent to this type of tracking ahead of time, which they often do when using the retailer’s app.).

Advanced beacon technology can also see the user profile of each individual device. By tapping into the user’s recent activity in the retailer’s app, beacons can issue personalized messages tailored to each specific shopper.

With this powerful technology at their disposal, retailers are often tempted to notify shoppers of any and all promotions they have going on in the store. However, those who do so will quickly encounter a fine line between convenience and annoyance — shoppers whose phones buzz too frequently with irrelevant messages are more likely to disable notifications than they are to take advantage of the service.

Ideally, beaconing mirrors the personalization of the online experience, providing relevant and personalized messages a customer is likely to find useful.

A personalized beacon campaign could display the in-store availability of items already in the user’s digital shopping cart, pull up reviews of a product the customer pauses at in the store or even offer a discount on an object the customer had been searching for online earlier that day.

The key is to make sure shoppers are glad to receive every message that pops up on their phone.

How Is Beaconing Being Used?

While this technology is not new, most retailers have yet to achieve its potential for personalization. That being said, as more companies begin to experiment with beaconing campaigns of their own, several have discovered the benefit of such customizable marketing messages.

For example, American fashion retailer Kenneth Cole uses beacons to send personalized offers to customers as they reach key areas of the store. As a result, more shoppers now open the retailer’s app and take advantage of discounts while in the brick-and-mortar location.

Beyond retail, beaconing has also proven a useful engagement tool across the world of sports. Basketball fans who come to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena can opt in to receive beacons via the team’s mobile app. Based on fans’ location within the stadium, beacons can let them know where they can find shorter lines for admission or concessions or special deals on jerseys.

When it comes to personalization, however, no one excels like GameStop. By identifying customers as they enter the store, the videogame and consumer electronics retailer can use beacons to dish out content tailored to each visitor’s unique shopping habits. As a result, those who bought adventure games in the past may be directed to similar titles, while those who bought a console may receive discounts on accessories. Plus, by remembering previous purchases, the retailer could automatically connect each customer with its loyalty program, making them eligible for significant discounts.

Beacons are a relatively simple technology, and the ways in which retailers can use them are constrained only by their imagination. That being said, time has proven that the greatest potential for beaconing lies in its ability to bring the best aspects of online shopping to the brick-and-mortar store, transforming the flat, physical store into a rich, personalized multichannel experience.


ObjectWave is a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at