Brands must avoid ‘beacon spam’ to gain people’s trust

Lucy Handley

News today that retailers are experimenting with proximity marketing technology beacons is exciting but adds another layer of data that marketers must be very careful with.

Beacons are small widgets that interact with a smartphone’s Bluetooth technology and can pinpoint where someone is within about three or four feet, ‘waking up’ a relevant app and sending push notifications to that person.

The potential for this technology is huge: if I go into a supermarket which has stuck beacons on its wall, have Bluetooth enabled on my phone and that supermarket’s app (a fair amount to ask of a consumer) that brand can see the route I take around the shop and what I buy.

If the technology knows I’m spending a long time dithering in front of the cheese fridge, it can send me a coupon or suggestion from the retailer or manufacturer to prompt me to choose something.

In theory, the supermarket could link this kind of ‘physical analytics’ information up with its loyalty card data, making its knowledge about me pretty powerful.

Macy’s, Timberland and Clarks are testing beacons in the US and PayPal launched its Beacon last September, available to retailers across the Atlantic as well as in the UK, China, Australia and China. It can automatically check people into a shop and when they are ready to pay, they simply tell a salesperson and the transaction is automatically completed.

In the UK, sandwich chain Eat announced a tie up with Weve’s Pouch loyalty app last week and sources suggest a supermarket brand and a cinema chain are also set to test out beacons for themselves. For example, if someone walks into a cinema the beacon might be able to ‘wake up’ their ticket on their smartphone, or send a link to a movie trailer if they are lingering in front of a movie poster.

This all sounds brilliant for consumers as well as marketers but businesses must gain the trust of people and work out a data strategy before they start rolling beacons out. Indeed, mobile operators’ association the GSMA is currently working on best practice guidelines to avoid ‘beacon spam’.

The ‘smart bins’ trial by the City of London had to be axed due to an outcry about people’s data being collected as they walked down the street, and a report by Fujitsu published last year suggests that only nine per cent of consumers trust brands to keep their data secure, so the technology needs to be handled very sensitively. 

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