Target guides customers through the aisles with beacons

Source: Target video
Sep 25, 2017

Shoppers may soon have an easy way to find what they’re looking for in Target stores, thanks to a new Bluetooth beacon-enabled mapping feature on the retailer’s mobile app.

The beacons, built into the LED lighting of the stores, enable shoppers using the Target smartphone app to see their own position on a store map, according to TechCrunch. As customers move through the store, their position on the map changes correspondingly. App users can also click on products on their shopping lists to reveal the location of the item and see if it’s on sale.

While some of the most familiar implementations of beaconing technology, like triggered coupons, have proven unpopular with customers, some retailers have had success with in-store mapping.

Nebraska Furniture Mart, for instance, implemented beacons that give step-by-step walking instructions to customers seeking a particular item. The service has been well-received by customers attempting to navigate the locations, which are the size of five to six IKEAs.

Target’s implementation of beacons is not the first experiment the retailer has conducted recently in its search for ways to improve its in-store experience.

Last year Target announced the piloting of a department store-style layout in 25 of its stores in the Los Angeles area. The stores feature new additions, such as themed displays near store entrances and service advisers in the aisles.

Then, earlier this year, Target announced a new prototype big box store, broken out into two sections accessible by different entrances. One entrance brings customers to a section defined as offering “ease,” with grab-and-go food and other items suited to quick, in-and-out shopping trips. The other side features an “inspiration” section for longer shopping visits.

And in its pursuit of a foothold in urban markets, Target has rolled out “flexible format” small stores with product selections that cater to the neighborhoods in which they’re built.

In February Target announced plans to spend $7 billion on store, digital and supply chain-related capital expenditures in the next three years.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Target’s use of beacons effectively meet a customer need and improve the shopping experience in its stores? Is this a good tech investment for Target to make?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"As Target’s store designs become more fluid and as formats become less standardized, this could help some shoppers find what they’re looking for."
"Yes, more than a good idea to have beacons, with so very, very few sales support people in a Target store."
"If you need a beacon and an app to find stuff in Target then Target has done a bad job of signage and layout. "

Join the Discussion!

22 Comments on "Target guides customers through the aisles with beacons"

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Mark Ryski

One of the key reasons shoppers visit a store without buying in large-format stores is the inability to find product, so this type of beacon implementation should have a positive impact on shopping experience and conversion rates. That said, this technology has been around for some time, and it’s not perfect. If it doesn’t work well, it could have the opposite effect.

Given the size of Target stores, I think this is a good investment that could have a measurable impact on store experience for those shoppers who choose to use it.

Tom Dougherty

It certainly meets a need and demonstrates the evolution of merchandising. It is a realization that ease of use drives traffic and Target seems willing to leverage that preferred position in lieu of having in-store merchandising expand the market basket.

A preview of changes to come.

Sterling Hawkins

A preview of what’s to come, for sure. Especially with the improvements in computer vision, technology helping customers find product in stores will become all but necessary. I’d look at it as complementary to in-store merchandising as it’s a case of 1+1 equaling 5 or more.

Max Goldberg

Beacons could help customers navigate large stores, like Target, but once they arrive at a destination how will Target ensure that the product a consumer desires is on the shelf? This is the most frustrating part about shopping at Target — out-of-stocks. No matter how much Target management spends on new ideas, they still have trouble with the basics — and the basics are what resonate with consumers.

Anne Howe

I like the idea of beacons to help busy shoppers. But the wandering in a Target store is part of the compelling customer experience. And most store formats are quite alike, so the app feature may be designed to attract new shoppers. Either way, the option for beacon assistance is a plus for the shopper.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Sometimes getting in, finding the right product, and getting out is the goal. Sometimes browsing is the goal. So the beacon technology will be an advantage for some but not a solution for every shopper or even for the same shopper for every visit.

Art Suriano

Will this new technology meet the needs of a customer who is looking for an item? Maybe, but it will not enhance the shopping experience. I love technology, but there is something to be said about the in-store experience that involves human beings. There will be a percentage of customers who will download the app and use this feature. But I don’t see that being a significant amount. And even though Target is mostly a self-serve store, having a few associates around with smiles on their faces directing customers to items they are looking for will go much further than asking customers to do it themselves while using an app. Remember: the biggest advantage of the in-store experience is interacting with well-trained and friendly associates. Target should weigh the cost of this technology versus adding a few more associates in-store.

Dave Bruno

I couldn’t agree more, Art. I have serious doubts as to the adoption and efficacy of the beacon-based maps in the hands of shoppers. However, a few more well-trained sales associates — armed with technology that included inventory, location, promotion and customer information — would have a much greater likelihood of improving the customer experience in the store.

Dr. Stephen Needel

If you need a beacon and an app to find stuff in Target then Target has done a bad job of signage and layout. Regular shoppers know where stuff is, or approximately where stuff is. New or infrequent shoppers aren’t going to download the app.

John Karolefski

It’s laudable to see Target experiment with ways to improve in-store shopping. The experience certainly needs improving.

Are beacons with mapping capability the way to do it? No. Most customers will not accept this feature because they just want to get in and out of the store quickly.

I just don’t see shoppers navigating the store while an app guides them. Would a mapping feature on the app help shoppers find an item that is difficult to locate? I guess so, but how many times does that happen? Most shoppers already know where their frequently-bought products are located.

Target would do better by adding more store associates who shoppers could ask to locate that item. And by not periodically changing the location of product categories. Loyal shoppers hate that because they can’t easily find anything anymore.

Those are two simple common-sense suggestions that don’t rely on deploying more techno-gizmos in an attempt to appear progressive and cool.

Neil Saunders

My initial reaction was to say that this is technology for the sake of technology, especially given Target’s standardized layout and its aisle numbering system.

However, as Target’s store designs become more fluid and as formats become less standardized, this could help some shoppers find what they’re looking for — especially in larger shops. The ability to identify discounted and sale items could prove particularly popular.

Target also has an advantage in that many customers already use the app in-store to check Cartwheel deals.

Steve Montgomery

This will make it easier for those willing to download Target’s app and agree to share all the things it requires access to — location (naturally), photos, camera and Wi-Fi connection information. Another classic case of the consumer being willing to share all this data with a retailer to get something back. The questions is, how many are willing to share all that information to be able to more quickly find an item in a store that is not the size of an IKEA?

Nir Manor

This is definitely a step in the right direction — using technology to improve in-store experience and in-store conversion. However, beacons haven’t proven to be an accurate or effective tool and it is doubtful that using this technology will actually create value for shoppers by helping their navigation in-store.

Adrian Weidmann

Way-finding in a store has been a popular technology objective. As with many issues covered here on RetailWire, the issue seems to always find its way back to inventory visibility and planogram alignment. It’s one thing to help guide a shopper to where they’ll find what they’re looking for — it’s another challenge to make certain it’s there and in the quantities listed on the website.

While way-finding may be helpful for the focused objective — what about the journey? What happened to surprise and delight? It seems you could make the shopping journey more enjoyable along the way.

Dave Nixon

I don’t believe the beacons will necessarily “enhance” the shopping experience, but it certainly will optimize it for those folks where time is of the essence finding specific items. This technology will enable the more efficient shopping of such a large store and, hopefully, Target will capitalize on the time gains to create a more profitable emotional purchase opportunity.

If the shopper saves 20 minutes and $20, then let’s create an experience that entices her to dwell longer for those impulse buys. One area in which most of our retail customers fall short is using the analytics that this type of system can generate for future enhancements to the customer experience: better store design, heatmapping of inefficient design within the store, hot products, trends, inventory optimization, etc. Let’s hope to see some positive gains for Target for investing in this technology!

Ryan Mathews
First of all, I have to admit that I am one of those people who would love a team of sherpas to guide me through the Nebraska Furniture Marts and IKEAs of the world. And yes, my own research has demonstrated that customers have real difficulty locating products in a store and often just “seeing” them, i.e., finding them in a display. That said, I’m not so sure I have that same problem at Target. Even so, let’s assume people do. First of all that speaks to a larger problem — ineffective signage and poor customer assistance on the floor. And in fact, Target does have the latter problem. It is tough to find someone to help you. So we have to ask ourselves, what should be invested in first, better training or technology to compensate for ineffective training? Second, does Target want the “shopper’s journey” to be quite so goal-/destination-focused? If people rush to exactly what they want you reduce impulse opportunities. In fact, if it is goal-/destination-shopping, why not just do it online?… Read more »
Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
5 years 6 months ago

For busy shoppers, finding products quickly in large stores is key to a pleasurable shopping experience. Rather than finding a red phone and waiting for a store associate to assist your search for a product, mobile technology can expedite the search and likely to be more accurate.

Customer-facing mobile apps are a great way to engage customers and offer value-added services. And best of all, you don’t need to invest in mobile devices as customers use their own smartphones.

Target’s significant investment in technology to improve the shopping experience and logistics is a smart move. If you don’t satisfy your customers, you won’t have customers — or at least not happy ones.

Alex Senn

I think this is a great move, one they should have more seriously considered years ago, but it’s a good move nonetheless. They need to be utilizing anything they can to detect user behavior and track user data. In the retail world, especially in an Amazon-dominated one, if the retailer can pick up more swiftly on what a customer wants, what sales they take action on and how they shop between online/offline, this is an advantage in the various methods a retailer could use to target and deliver relevant products to this same customer. Doing this just might be able to keep this customer coming back for more.

Ralph Jacobson

The effective implementation of this technology is one of the “Holy Grails” of retailing in large stores. Helping the shopper find what they need! It’s as simple (but not easy) as that.

Peter Luff

In Target’s large format stores, this could be a nice differentiator for the overall shopping experience. The challenge is not about the technology, the challenge is actually in the sustaining of the innovation and committing to resource this for the lifetime of the approach. This becomes especially so when the project champion moves onto new pastures.

We know store layouts and planograms change both centrally and locally. If the approach is not fully integrated and resourced then what is initially an exciting potential USP can soon become a really negative experience for the shopper. Just imagine being sent to multiple store points only to find the items have been moved.

It’s often the way that new technology sounds exciting, but its benefit only comes though if there is excellence in execution and a fully baked sustainable approach. Time will tell.

Cynthia Holcomb

Yes, since it is virtually impossible to find someone to help you or let alone give directions to where a product might be. Especially in electronics! A ghost land. Yes, more than a good idea to have beacons, with so very, very few sales support people in a Target store.

Min-Jee Hwang

It’s easy for shoppers to get overwhelmed in big box stores. Target is right on the mark with this technology addition because they’re providing something that shoppers actually want. If they have the Target app and have taken the time to make a shopping list in it, then making sure they find everything on that list is the next logical step. This development helps Target deliver what they’ve promised. It will increase shopper satisfaction and boost their bottom line as well — a win-win situation.

"As Target’s store designs become more fluid and as formats become less standardized, this could help some shoppers find what they’re looking for."
"Yes, more than a good idea to have beacons, with so very, very few sales support people in a Target store."
"If you need a beacon and an app to find stuff in Target then Target has done a bad job of signage and layout. "

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