Target is using beacons to aid in-store mapping, and the retailer is expanding its next-day delivery service.

Target Corp. will have beacons in more than 1,000 of its 1,800 stores before Thanksgiving.

Target uses the beacons for its in-store mapping feature in the Target app, as well as to display nearby deals to shoppers. As the retailer remodels its stores to have LED overhead lights, it is adding a beacon device to each light, a Target spokesman says.

Beacons are small pieces of hardware (about the size of a deck of cards) that can sense a smartphone’s location, but only if the consumer has the Target shopping app installed on her phone, opted in to sharing her location and has Bluetooth enabled in the settings of her smartphone. Target has free Wi-Fi in its stores.

Target this week also announced it is expanding its next-day delivery service, Target Restock, to eight new markets, for a total of 11 cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco (launching mid-October), St. Louis and Washington D.C./Baltimore.

Target Restock allows shoppers to automatically reorder more than 15,000 household products for $4.99 next-day delivery if they order by 2 p.m. Orders are fulfilled from Target stores.

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Both the beacon deployment and Target Restock are omnichannel initiatives that aim to better integrate Target’s stores with online shopping.

“Stores will be the heart of Target’s digital future, as great places to shop, great places to ship from,” Mike McNamara, Target’s chief information and digital officer said in a video announcing the beacon rollout.

Here’s how the beacon technology works: A shopper with Target’s mobile app can open the map of the store she is in and see a blue dot on the map that indicates where she is standing. The map also shows aisles that indicate where products are in the store. A consumer can tap on a product in the app and see on the map both where the item is and where she is standing in relation to it. Target has had an in-store map in its app for years, however this is the first time Target has shown the shopper’s location on the map.

A new feature within the app, thanks to the beacon technology, is the ability to show a carousel of on-sale products that are near the shopper’s location.

Overall, this is a good step forward for Target, says Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. While the in-store navigation service is not “game changing,” serving up nearby deals is a better hook to get shoppers to use the new feature, she says.

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“Target’s core audience is on a budget—they want to be sure they are getting the best deal, shop their list prudently and be efficient in doing do. Think of a young mom with one or two small children in tow,” she says. “Target’s ability to know where a customer is in the store allows them to raise awareness of deals, especially when the consumer can type in what she wants to buy, or it is already on the list.”

Stores will be the heart of Target’s digital future.
Mike McNamara, Target’s chief information and digital officer

This service could drive more app downloads and entice consumers to opt in to sharing location, Ask says. Plus, the beacons will give Target data on how shoppers navigate its stores, which will help the retailer adapt its store layouts, refine product selection and deliver more customized offers to shoppers, she says.

Two years ago, Target tested beacon technology in 50 of its stores. The pilot operated differently and there is not much overlap in functionality with this new beacon program, Target’s spokesman says. For example, the previous beacon program would send a shopper a push notification message on her smartphone about a nearby product that was on sale, and this beacon deployment will not send smartphone alerts, the Target spokesman says.

“It’s got to be relevant,” the spokesman says about using beacon technology in stores. “It’s got to be a service that guests really want and are looking for. It’s not a platform for sending unwanted promotions.”

The previous deployment also only had about 50 beacons per store, which did not give the retailer the coverage it needed to cover its typical 135,000-square-foot stores, the spokesman says. With beacons installed in the lights, each average-size Target store has roughly 1,000 beacons, he says.

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Target also learned from the pilot how guests interact with the system and how beacon technology works, the spokesman says. He declined to specify any use goals for this new feature.

Target declined to share the vendor it’s working with to provide the beacon hardware; the retailer built the technology in-house that connects its app and the beacons. The spokesman declined to disclose costs.

The retailer can control the beacons remotely, such as turning them off when shoppers are not in stores, the spokesman says.

All of this technology is in Target’s main shopping app. The merchant recently added the functionality of its in-store couponing app, Cartwheel, into the Target app and will phase out the Cartwheel app. Target wants all of its features in one app.

The Cartwheel app was used more frequently by shoppers than the Target shopping app, according to web measurement firm SimilarWeb Ltd., but the retailer’s spokesman says the flagship Target app had a more robust back end and it was easier to integrate Cartwheel—which was built for a single purpose—into the shopping app.

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