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Bloomingdale’s exec: Beacons need value-driven campaigns, consistent experiences

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October 8, 2014

The Bloomingdale's iPhone app

The Bloomingdale’s iPhone app

LITCHFIELD PARK, AZ – A Bloomingdale’s executive at the Mobile Shopping Summit 2014 said that beacon strategies require campaigns and education so that consumers know what to expect when they engage with the in-store technology.

During the panel session, “Location, Location, Location- Digitizing The Instore Experience,” the executive said that beacons are just one of many tools in the tool kit. Bloomingdale’s is currently testing beacons in a few doors.

“The question is that we really need to see with iBeacons is that it really is showing that value, that it is a consistent experience across stores so that the customer goes into one store and then they go into another, and it is seamless,” said Jessica Karr, manager of mobile enhancements at Bloomingdale’s.

“If you have something in one store, or a customer scanning a one-off QR code, it is not really telling a story,” she said.

“We need to create campaigns and education systems around it so that they know this is what you should expect and get if you interact with this product or if you come into the store and use the location services.”

The Mobile Shopping Summit was organized by Worldwide Business Research.

Augmenting location programs
Retailers need to think about what they want to convey with beacons, per Ms. Karr. This could include additional product information, product reviews or offers.

It is also important to think about creating experiences so that shoppers are not just walking by something and being served an ad. Instead, the goal should be to encourage shoppers to stand there for a set amount of time and get more information.

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The “Location, Location, Location- Digitizing The Instore Experience” panel. 

Ms. Karr’s thoughts on beacons were echoed by Brian Wilson, director of product management at Westfield Labs, the digital lab for mall operator Westfield Corp.

“From a navigation standpoint, I don’t believe that beacons will provide an adequate user experience,” Mr. Wilson said. “They may be fine for messaging and proximity but when you talk about true location capabilities, I don’t think that is really what they are built for.

“I do look at them as an augmentation layer to a variety of different technologies that can be deployed for location,” he said. “They have a place for messaging or alerting for very precise proximity.”

Precision counts
One challenge with beacons will be the need to ensure shoppers are not annoyed by too many messages.

“It is a really hard challenge to understand a person well enough from the behavior patterns to be precise around offering them opportunities,” Mr. Wilson said. “It is a really dangerous line, not from the creepiness factor, but just form the annoyance factor.

“If you are not spot on, it can be annoying really fast. That is a danger that all of us leveraging this technology and data need to be aware of.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 12.13.50 PM

The Westfield US iPhone app

For Bloomingdale’s, beacons complement some of the other ways the retailer is leveraging mobile to enhance the in-store experience and complement any pre-visit online research customers may have done. The goal in-store is to insure store associates have the proper mobile tools to help shoppers while also providing self-service tools for customers who are not going to interact with associates as much.

Recently, Bloomingdale’s introduced in its mobile app tools that were previously available to store associates, enabling registry customers to scan an item and add it to a look and then set a table to see how different patterns look.

“That just recently went live,” Ms. Karr said. “So far the response has been very good.

“It is not just a selling tool, but a way for store associates to connect with their customer long terms because customers know they can go back to that associate and get what they want,” she said.

“When you make a connection with a associate, the selling potential is much higher.”

Deeper insights
The department store chain also empowers store associates with tablets equipped with the retailer’s clienteling system for a deeper understanding of customers.

In store departments such as handbags, shoes and home products, the tablets have the entire product inventory available so customers can find what they are looking for without having to walk all around the store.

The retailer also has some of its digital look books in key areas of the store.

Ms. Karr reports that recent interviews with store associates revealed that they are texting customers as a way to drive them into stores when new product becomes available.

Recognizing that a lot of research is happening on mobile before customers come into a store, the retailer also recently launched a browser-based digital wallet.

Content aggregation
Westfield Labs is focused on empowering our concierges in its malls with similar digital tools with the goal of improving the experience for visitors at any time wherever they are.

Recently, Westfield Corp. introduced a content aggregation platform to house and distribute digital content that is currently available at locations in Australia and will be making its way to the U.S. soon.

The content is primarily imagery and associated data around products.
The mall operator is working with its retail partners to aggregate the content in one place so people can shop online at home and know that that product is available from a store at the mall.

Mr. Wilson envisioned a scenario where the platform could be used by someone shopping at home who could select an item and have a retailer hold it. From there, the shopper could receive information about where to park at the mall in order to get to the appropriate store as quickly as possible as well as pedestrian navigation to the store once inside the mall.

“It is not necessarily about the shopping experience but all of the other things that can be associated with visiting the mall, food, entertainment, etc.,” Mr. Wilson said.

“We think about the customer journey, not just starting within the four walls of the mall, but we talk about couch to store and back again,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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