Mobile commerce experts, including mobile commerce chiefs at retail organizations, say in-store use of mobile technologies to enhance the store shopping experience is the next big thing in retail. One mobile marketing expert offers several tips on how to best make use of beacons.

Although our love for in-store shopping hasn’t changed much over the last 20 years (more than 90% of retail sales still happen in brick-and-mortar stores), what has changed significantly is the way in which we shop. Nowadays, it is virtually impossible to find a consumer who isn’t carrying a smartphone with them; a recent Google study says 84% of shoppers with smartphones use their mobile devices to research products, check prices or get feedback from friends while they shop in stores.

With beacon technology, chain retailers and brands have a unique opportunity to engage with these smartphone-toting consumers while they are shopping. Beacons communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth Low Energy wireless networking technology present on virtually every smartphone today. Beacons placed in specific areas of a store enable marketers to trigger delivery of highly relevant, location-aware offers and digital content to a shopper’s smartphone based on her precise location within the store. Brands are beginning to embrace beacon marketing, with retailers such as Macy’s Inc., American Eagle Outfitters Inc., Duane Reade, Lord & Taylor, and Alex and Ani announcing national deployments.

For retailers preparing to take the beacon leap, here are some tips for making the most of beacon-powered mobile marketing campaigns.

  1. Be transparent with consumers: Some consumers are still wary of sharing their phone’s location information. The best way to overcome this reticence is with complete transparency. Explain how location information will be used and what the consumer will receive in return. Always ask for permission to use location information and provide consumers with an easy way to opt out at any time. One byproduct of this approach: it provides a great opportunity to openly promote the service to shoppers through store signage and sales associate messaging.
  2. Deliver value with every interaction: Value plays a major role in shoppers’ willingness to share their location information. Consumer surveys have shown that over three-quarters of shoppers are willing to share their location if they receive some level of value in return. Of course, exclusive offers are one way to deliver value, but there are many other options. They includ: alerting shoppers to existing in-store specials or promotions, highlighting new product arrivals, providing helpful tips on choosing the right product, offering style/design ideas, or sharing product reviews. 
  3. Ensure relevance: Beyond a lack of value, the biggest turn-off for consumers when it comes to mobile marketing is a lack of relevance. Beacon-triggered push notifications need to be tied to a shopper’s location as well as her interests in order to generate engagement. Measure the time shoppers spend in a particular area of the store to confirm they are actually browsing and interested in those products as opposed to simply passing through to get to another department. Past purchase data or saved wish lists provide additional insight into consumer preferences and an opportunity to further target messages and content that resonate at the right time and place.
  4. Consider the shopper experience: Marketers need to remember that the primary goal for in-store shoppers is shopping. Beacon-triggered notifications and digital content need to complement not compete with the shopping experience. Retailers and brands need to carefully consider the frequency and number of in-store mobile messages, the complexity of the content being delivered (focus on simple, “glanceable” media), and the sequencing of campaigns (for example, changing the content or offer for repeat store visits).
  5. Test and learn: We are at the very early stages of beacon marketing and, as such, there is much to be learned about how to best use this new marketing channel. Marketers need to be vigilant about creating a test-and-learn agenda that can provide real-world insights into campaign performance. Beacon marketing platforms can provide deep insights into shopper behavior (including mobile content open and engagement rates, as well as offer conversions), but retailers and brands will need to experiment, iterate and refine their approach over time in order to realize the full potential of beacons.
  6. Plan for scale: With a plethora of start-ups now offering beacon hardware kits, technical developers have been able to quickly build prototypes that have helped them understand the technology behind beacon marketing. Moving from prototype to production, however, requires an entirely different set of capabilities. Retailers considering large-scale beacon marketing rollouts need to partner with solution providers who offer enterprise-class tools and services for creating and managing wide-scale beacon marketing campaigns, intelligently serving targeted mobile content based on user behavior, analyzing and optimizing program performance, ensuring data security and reliability, monitoring large beacon networks, and integrating with existing corporate information systems and databases.
  7. Get started NOW: Early adopters of the technology stand to gain a significant competitive advantage over those retailers who sit on the sideline. Smartphone use by in-store shoppers to make purchasing decisions is here to stay, and marketers who get a jump on learning how to best take advantage of beacon marketing to engage these consumers will be well positioned to reap its benefits for this holiday season and beyond.

We are at the beginning of a revolution that will forever change the in-store shopping experience. Consumers are ready and waiting with their smartphones in hand. Now it’s up to retailers to deliver the goods.

Swirl is a proximity-based in-store mobile marketing technology and services provider. Follow Hilmi Ozguc at @HilmiOzguc.