The high-end fashion retailer is piloting beacons in three stores, using the mobile technology to send shoppers directions to in-store events.

Instead of pushing coupons to shoppers, as many retailers using beacon technology do, Neiman Marcus Group Inc. is traveling a different path as it experiments with beacons.

The high-end retail chain, No. 97 in the 2015 Internet Retailer Mobile 500, is piloting beacons at three stores—Austin, TX, Walnut Creek, CA, and San Antonio.

Beacons are small pieces of hardware that retailers can place anywhere in a store. They pinpoint the location of a consumer’s smartphone that has a retailer’s app. Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy wireless networking technology, common on all newer smartphones. Beacons can trigger an app to send a push notification when they sense a smartphone is within a few feet of a product display, a counter, or anything in a store.

Retailers such as Lord & Taylor have deployed beacons to send discounts to shoppers. However, Neiman Marcus is using the technology to promote in-store events. The beacon-triggered push notifications inform shoppers about trunk shows, guest designers, book signings and other special in-store events. The messages give the time of the event and directions to the event. Neiman Marcus sends push notifications only for events happening on the day when a shopper is in a store.

“It’s all about enhancing her experience so she’s getting that information and she’s not missing out on something,” says Scott Emmons, enterprise architect at Neiman Marcus Group.


The beacon-triggered push notifications registered click-through rates similar to other types of marketing messages, says Emmons, who declines to reveal exact figures. Shoppers can touch a push notification and the message will link them to a relevant page within the app.

Instead of integrating beacons within its app, Neiman Marcus integrated its beacons in Apple Inc.’s Apple Passbook mobile wallet app using Aruba Networks beacon hardware and BestFit’s Proximity Development Kit. As a result, in the pilot, Neiman Marcus is only sending push notifications to iPhone users.

Neiman Marcus has 10 beacons per store, but not all of them are active at the same time. Shoppers typically receive only one message per shopping trip. The retailer tailors the range of the beacon—from 170 feet and closer—per event. 

“It was low-hanging fruit, and very easy to implement and experiment with,” Emmons says.


To measure how many shoppers use the directions, in some cases the retailer provides a small gift to shoppers who attend an event and show the Passbook message on their phone.

Emmons would not share specifics on costs but says the bulk of the investment was software development. The physical beacons “are pennies compared to the rest,” he says.

While Passbook is easy to use, Emmons says, it also is limiting. For example, Passbook limits the length of a message a retailer can send to 29 characters. Long term, the retailer hopes to integrate beacons within the Neiman Marcus app, but a pilot with Passbook allows Neiman Marcus to make quick changes as it learns what shoppers want. The retailer plans to continue experimenting with beacons at the three pilot stores until it receives sufficient results from the deployment.

“We want to continue to do this,” Emmons says. “It’s a great touch point that we didn’t have before for our customers.”


Follow mobile business journalist April Dahlquist, associate editor, mobile, at Internet Retailer, at @MobileInsiderAD.