IRCE recap: Is there a right way for retailers to use beacons?
There is hope for in-store beacons yet, but the primary ways retailers have been implementing them thus far have been the wrong ones. That was the main takeaway in a session given by Adam Silverman, principal analyst at Forrester Research, accompanied by Jeff Douglas, general manager of e-commerce at Nebraska Furniture Mart, at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago last week.
In his presentation, Mr. Silverman showed that, in response to the question, “How interested would you be in allowing your smartphone to interact with beacon technology in a store environment to help offer the following contextual experiences?” special offers, loyalty rewards and rewards for checking in to the store topped the list. These results, however, may be deceptive, as they could reflect customers’ stated desires and not actual behavior.
“[These uses of beacons have] actually been in place and it hasn’t been wildly successful,” said Mr. Silverman. “Many of the examples of early adopters of beacons, focusing on offers in aisles — it’s disruptive. Customers don’t want the alerts.”
In contrast, Mr. Silverman saw real opportunities for the effective use of beacons in the responses slightly farther down the list — having beacons communicate with smartphones to facilitate asking staff for assistance; using beacons to guide customers to products in the aisle; and using beacons for unlocking dressing rooms.
“There’s an element [in these use-cases] of service,” said Mr. Silverman. “… I believe that is where the focus of engagement with beacons should be.”
Mr. Douglas shared the story of Nebraska Furniture Mart’s successful implementation of beaconing for guiding customers to products. The store locations, according to Mr. Douglas, have enough floor space to fit five to six IKEAs. The store implemented beacons that pinpoint customer location and give step-by-step walking directions via smartphone, leading customers to digitally-tagged items on the shelf. A conference attendee who identified herself as a long-time NFM shopper applauded the innovation.
“This, I think, can be a game changer for, not just your store, but any other like it, because it’s an amazing store but it’s hard to find stuff — used to be hard to find stuff — so this is spectacular,” she said.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will a shift toward service-oriented beacons make the technology more effective and widely implemented? What other types of non-disruptive, service-oriented uses of beacon technology could be effective in brick-and-mortar stores, and in what types of retailers could they be best used?