Canadian retailers may have been slow on the uptake when it comes to e-commerce, but at least one major retailer has decided it won’t be left behind by the next big retail technology: mobile shopper marketing.
The Hudson’s Bay Company is testing in-store mobile messaging in five of its Bay locations in Canada and five Lord & Taylor stores in the U.S. The new messaging system uses mobile beacons located around the store to send notifications to shoppers that have downloaded the HBC gift registry app for iOS or Android. When shoppers stop to look at a display with a beacon nearby, they’ll automatically be pinged with a notification about the product and any offers attached to it.
Thanks to a recent update to Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, Bluetooth beacon technology is now the talk of the town in shopper marketing. It’s promised to revolutionize the shopper experience with enhanced loyalty rewards programs, better personalized offers and even secure mobile payments – though since technology is so new, its limits have yet to be tested.
HBC’s new project is powered by Boston-based tech startup Swirl, which offers an enterprise mobile messaging system including physical beacon hardware, a mobile software development kit (SDK) to integrate notifications with mobile apps, and a content management system that marketers can use to create messages and control when they’re pushed to customers.
Swirl’s SDK makes it easy for HBC to integrate its notifications into third-party apps. The roll-out includes a partnership with couponing app Snip Snap, and could be expanded to other apps in the future if the program proves successful.
Rob Murphy, Swirl’s vice-president of marketing, says the technology is designed to be easy for marketers to use themselves, and requires little support once it’s up and running.
“HBC is really big on mobile and technology, and trying to meet the needs of its shoppers,” said Murphy. “They know that most of their shoppers that are in stores are using their smartphones now, and this way was a way to connect with those consumers.”
To alleviate privacy concerns, Swirl’s technology operates on an explicit opt-in basis. Shoppers have to actively consent to share their location and receive notifications when they first download the app (and can choose not to without disabling the app’s other features). Whenever the shopper receives a new notification, an icon on the screen makes it easy for them to change their mind and opt out.
Murphy said that many of the concerns around in-store consumer tracking are based on a confusion between beacon technology and wtifi tracking systems like the controversial consumer analytics platform operated by Turnstyle. Unlike Wifi systems, which can read MAC (media access control) IDs from consumers’ devices without their consent, Bluetooth Smart beacons can’t communicate with devices that aren’t enabled to listen and respond to them. That makes active consent the default for beacon marketing.
Once shoppers have consented to receiving notifications, HBC will be able to track them within the store and analyze behaviours like dwell time on products and displays.
Murphy stressed that the primary goal in this kind of tracking is to improve customer experience in real-time by, for example, introducing a minimum dwell-time threshold on product-related messages. That way customers will only be pinged with information on products they show an interest in. “It helps us know we’re not over-messaging,” he said.
One of the things HBC will be testing in these first months is the optimal number of messages to send a consumer on a single store visit.
The company will be gauging the performance of the system and deciding whether to roll it out to other locations, based on how much consumers engage with the notifications they receive. HBC will be able to look at the number of customers that have opened notifications, how long they’ve spent reading HBC content, and whether they’ve redeemed any offers that were sent.
The five stores in Canada that have received the system are located in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa. The U.S. Lord & Taylor locations are in the New York and Boston areas.