Beam Me Up, Scotty!

Lawrence A. Crosby and Phil Hendrix
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • For retailers, restaurants and other bricks-and-mortar businesses, beacon technology offers the potential to make shopping easier, enhance the customer experience and drive loyalty.

  • By revealing exactly where the customer is in relation to beacons positioned throughout a store or venue, apps can be programmed to use that information and tailor experiences accordingly.

  • If beacon-enabled apps are easy and intuitive, and the experience is rewarding, customers will eagerly embrace the solutions. However, marketers often overestimate consumers’ interest in messages, offers and promotions. 

In a previous column, we discussed how sensor technology embedded in products and services has the potential to greatly improve customer experience (“Technology Personified,” February 2014). We proposed that technology-enabled personalization can increase customer engagement, improve the fit between customer needs and product attributes, and foster stronger bonds between brands and customers. Remember Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report being greeted at Gap by digital display advertising? Well, it looks like that day is upon us. 

For retailers, malls, restaurants, venues and other bricks-and-mortar businesses, beacon technology offers the potential to make shopping easier, enhance the customer experience, and drive loyalty for both retailers and brands. A July 2014 report by Business Insider predicts that there will be 4.5 million active beacons by 2018 with 3.5 million in use by retailers.

Target CEO Brian Cornell argued in an interview on CBS This Morning in September that mobile is fast becoming “the front door of our brand.” Cornell described how moms are shopping in Target stores, wielding a cart with one hand and a smartphone in the other. Blurring the boundary between the digital and physical worlds, retailers and other bricks-and-mortar businesses are experimenting with and, in some cases, rapidly deploying beacons in stores, at point-of-sale, at the drive-through, in parking lots and in other “on-premises” locations.

Beacons, themselves, are surprisingly low-tech. They’re low-cost, battery-operated wireless devices that transmit Bluetooth low-energy signals. But the magic happens when an app, programmed to work with the beacon, comes within range of the beacon—at which time the app can “wake up” and deliver contextually relevant experiences such as greetings, messages, offers and services. By revealing exactly where the customer is in relation to beacons positioned throughout a store or venue, apps can be programmed to use that information and tailor experiences accordingly.

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Author Bio:

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Lawrence A. Crosby and Phil Hendrix
Lawrence A. Crosby is dean of the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at the Claremont Graduate University. Phil Hendrix is founder and director of Immr, a research-based consultancy with headquarters in Atlanta.

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