If beacon technology is going to take off retailers must target beyond location

Beacon technology took another step towards the mainstream this week with the news that a host of high street retailers including House of Fraser and Bentalls are trialling high tech mannequins.

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The service, provided by Iconeme, will let mannequins talk to consumers via a mobile app that pushes notifications when shoppers are within 50 metres of the beacon. This is being pitched as a win-win for retailers and consumers, giving shoppers access to more product information without having to search through a mobile website and the shops more access to information on the people passing through.

This follows trials by other retailers including Waitrose, which has showed off technology that can push messages to people as they walk down different aisles.

The immediate problem here is intention. Just because a shopper is walking down an aisle does that mean they’re interested in the products on display there?

Maybe they’re just looking for the quickest route to the bakery section at the back.

It’s a similar problem with the mannequins. On the face of it this solves the age-old problem of actually being able to locate the clothes being displayed on a model in the store.

In reality, this will push notifications to anyone passing by that has the Iconeme app.

That’s not even that useful to retailers. There are any number of reasons why shoppers might walk past a particular store on a busy high street.

Running for the bus. Heading to a meeting. Going for a drink in the pub round the corner with a friend. None of these mean the person has any interest in the shop or the products it sells.

Almost all retailers are still wary of beacons with the furthest any major brand has gone being small trials at one-off locations. There is still a big education job to do and concerns over privacy to allay.

There is also the problem of spamming people. As with any attempt to directly target consumers, there is the risk of alienating more people than you attract by sending out bulk communications that aren’t relevant to the recipient.

If Iconeme can provide retailers with details on passers-by that have downloaded the app because they have their personal information, marketers should also be able to use that to target their communications and personalise their messages.

Beacon technology offers a wealth of opportunity to retailers and customers alike. But location-based targeting isn’t just about where the consumer happens to be. It needs a deeper context and understanding of the shopper and their interests to really make it work.

The retailers that can combine an innovative attitude to beacons with deep knowledge of the technology and its value to their shoppers will see a boost in loyalty and sales. Those that hawk out messages to anyone that happens to be in the area will quickly find it’s a sure-fire why to put off would-be purchasers.

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