Is This the Year of the Beacon?

It’s a new year. 2016. All the shopping, all the traveling, all the holiday meals, all the relatives, all the returns, and of course, all the Star Wars. Done. We made it. So let’s look at the year ahead of us. What’s in store for retail technology in 2016? That’s a pretty broad question and one with a million answers and points of view. In fact, check out TPN’s own Manny Alamagro speak on the topic of Technology & Retail at CES on Jan 6. Instead, let’s look at one area of potential for 2016: the mobile beacon.

Since beacons became the buzz in 2013, there has been a perpetual question to follow: will this be the year that the beacon really hits the mark, connecting retailers and brands more closely with their customers? Will this be the year of the beacon? Forbes asked this question of 2015, noting the strides that brands embracing location-based, proximity marketing could expect to see:

The companies who can get closest to the shopper – making her experience as efficient as possible – will boost their brand’s value and, more importantly, drive sales in the digital economy. Conversely, customers who have to do the least amount of work to find what they want for the right price will show their appreciation in dollars.

So how is this expected to come to fruition in 2016? Well, one indicator is that more retailers are signing contracts with beacon providers, which implies that more retailers are becoming equipped with the technology and ramping up to ping their shoppers. According to Ad Age, “global brands including Carrefour, Ikea, Macy’s, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Target signed contracts with beacon providers in the last quarter, according to ABI Research, and Facebook this summer began distributing the trackers for free to small businesses.” Simon Property Group and Macerich have also placed beacons in their shopping centers. As with any emerging technology, as it becomes more prolific, it will also begin to feel more common, more normal to those that engage with it, which is an important tipping point. So it seems that one hurdle, that of beacon availability and placement, is lessening as more large retailers and brands are pushing for adoption, hoping for those key nuggets of data to understand their shoppers better.

Another indicator is going to be reliant on shoppers, who must opt in and download apps to their smartphones in order to receive any notifications from beacons. Just a few years ago, the biggest hurdle seemed to be the relatively low number of shoppers that adopted smartphones; nowadays, that hurdle has vanished, only to be replaced with perhaps a larger one: permission to push alerts to shoppers’ phones. There’s a slippery slope of trust between brands/retailers and their shoppers. I think email is a prime example of this relationship. A shopper opts in to receive a retailer’s emails for a one time discount. From there, any number of scenarios takes place: the shopper continues to receive and look at the emails, sends them to spam or unsubscribes from emails completely. That line of communication can falter at any time, even when a shopper is a diehard fan of a brand/retailer. One email too many in too short of a timeframe, feels pushy. Over the holidays, I had one day where I received 5 emails from the same retailer – it was too much.

The shopper has to feel like the benefits outweigh any twinge of annoyance be it with emails, or ultimately push notifications. If the notifications are personal (but not creepy), timely and helpful, then shoppers will be drawn in, engage and feel rewarded if they score a deal. Such is the approach with ShopAdvisor, which presents its app as a shopper’s personal concierge. As discussed in the New York Times:

With the aim of driving shoppers into stores, ShopAdvisor incorporates data analytics that filter a shopper’s preferences and provide a way for retailers to send personalized alerts to consumers who have downloaded a brand’s app, offering discounts, highlighting sales and providing content such as product reviews that might instantly sway a buying decision.

“We’ve had at least three years of heavy-duty location-based marketing under retailers’ belts,” said JiYoung Kim, senior vice president for Ansible, the mobile division of the Interpublic Group, the global marketing company. “Everybody has the same tool, and targeting alone can only take you so far.”

What makes the ShopAdvisor approach enticing, Ms. Kim said, is that it not only precisely locates a shopper in a store but provides personalized creative content from that retailer to that shopper on the spot. Offer that shopper a 20 percent discount on some new black pumps she has been eyeing, along with a positive review from a popular fashion magazine, and a purchase is far more likely.

Through this route, ShopAdvisor doesn’t feel overly pushy and by engaging shoppers so they feel like they are “in the know,” the app has jumped that hurdle of permission and created portal of connection between beacons and shoppers, thereby connecting shoppers and brands. ShopAdvisor is just one of many shopping apps, but it seems to have made good on connecting beacons with shoppers in a promising fashion.

I also anticipate that as retailer-specific apps become more sophisticated and the use of them becomes a more integrated step in the shopper journey, additional progress with beacon notifications will happen. I think the Target Cartwheel app, is doing just that: getting shoppers used to seeing the signs in store and then getting the deal by checking the app. It’s a bit of a training wheels approach to making Cartwheel a natural part of the Target shopping experience. And with Target making beacons available in store, I would be willing to bet that beacon notifications will eventually substitute those Cartwheel signs in store and in order to keep shopping with the benefits of Cartwheel, shoppers must allow the alerts. While this approach too relies on shoppers feeling like they are getting special deals, it has the added benefit of building on their newly-ingrained shopping process tied directly to the retailer and in fact, could build on to the loyalty.

So, with all that said, is this the year of the beacon? Since my magic eight ball says try again later, I think we will have to wait and see. It’s certainly a year for beacons to gain momentum, but the extent of it remains to be seen.

Image: Getty

Retail and the Weather: An Ice Story

This Fall season has been one to remember. Here in Dallas, like in many parts of the country, we experienced a severe ice storm last week that pretty much put the brakes on everything. Though we’re a big city, we’re not equipped to deal with not only the initial snow/sleet fall but the subsequent refreezing as temperatures stayed in the freezing range for the next week. And as luck would have it, this ice storm occurred during an already shortened Christmas shopping season. All this got me thinking, what are retailers and brands to do when Mother Nature throws a wrench into the busiest shopping season of the year? Here are my top five recommendations to retailers and brands for not getting blindsided by unexpected weather.

Be Prepared (Online)

Weather happens, from snow and ice to unforgiving heat waves and everything in between. In Dallas, it seems like we get one good pummeling snow/ice storm about every three years or so (just my personal estimation). Before this most recent storm, the last one happened the week Dallas was hosting the Super Bowl and that was a doosy. All that to say, weather is bound to happen sometime/somewhere, so retailers and brands should be prepared with how their products can remain strong when it does hit. Like any other day, your website is up, running, easily accessible via mobile and checkout is easy (where applicable). A no-brainer here, but confirm with your providers that weather will not or should not interrupt your web service. Aside from the basics of web site functionality, the easiest thing, in my opinion, is to be prepared with web content, which is especially helpful for all those potential customers stuck at home surfing the web. For example, a home improvement store chain could create self-help videos that instruct the proper method for shoveling snow or for removing fallen tree limbs. A fashion brand could create a pinterest board with the best snow apparel that its target audience could use to feel inspired during a time that normally leaves us all looking like overstuffed marshmallow men. A food brand could post comfort food recipes using ingredients found in the pantry mixed with their products. A major retailer could have a social media weather plan in place to allow it to quickly adapt with a consistent hashtag across messaging and be on the forefront of the conversation. All in all, it’s a way to preemptively think about how your store or brand can still be productive online in spite of the weather.

Be Prepared (In Store)

Luckily, with events like snow storms, we usually can see them coming thanks to all of the newfangled meteorological technology at society’s disposal. As such, retailers can be proactive in the ways they react to such news in store. For larger retailers, this may be easier said than done because it takes a lot of energy and time to shift the sails of such a large “ship.” That’s when I say you should empower your boots on the ground to help make the calls for their area. Have a protocol in place for not only taking care of your employees in the area impacted but a plan for how they can keep the lead office informed and adapt the store to the needs of shoppers. Maybe for a grocery chain, it could be switching out a front display containing Christmas day meal solutions to one that’s driven with bread and batteries or push coolers up front for milk.  Or it’s creating an impromptu storm bundle offer that combines necessities like food with fun activities like books and magazines, which not only help shopper Mom feed her family but could keep them entertained, even if they lose power. Perhaps a clothing retailer puts its cold weather clothes, coats and accessories in their strategic selling spots and empowers employees to push these items at checkout as pre-storm basket builders. But again, don’t forget the basics, like having rock salt on hand to put at your store entrance should it ice over and proper mats for wiping off icy boots so as to avoid slip-and-falls.

Be Insightful

Being able to target your shoppers is key at any stage in this retail game, but it can be even more important when you add weather to the mix. This not only means being prepared with content but having the capabilities to push it to the right shoppers and when with geotargeting. I know I’ve been getting anywhere from one to three emails a day from certain retailers keeping me updated on the latest sales in store during this busy shopping season. By adding an additional level of geotargeting to these emails, retailers, large and small, could help to keep their shoppers engaged and informed. Whether it’s pushing an email to promote a pre-storm bundle along with their store hours or sending a text message to shoppers to let them know “We’re Open!”, getting this granular with your shoppers lets them know your store or brand is coping with the weather as well. I saw small businesses doing this really well during our Dallas ice storm, from email to social, by clearly communicating with their shoppers so as to advise as well as to gauge demand. Bigger brands and retailers can do this too, with the help of geotargeting.

Be Aware

This season is not only the busiest for many brands and retailers but for their shipping partners as well, which is why is so important for brands and retailers to be aware of how shipments may be impacted due to the weather. With the possibility of shoppers being stuck at home and doing more shopping online than they had originally planned, the number of shipments required escalates quite rapidly even while shipping centers are dealing with the same undriveable  roads and shortage of staff that everyone else is dealing with. Shipments can ultimately be delayed and perhaps, even lost, in the additional traffic. Shoppers may be lenient to a certain degree, but they still want to receive what they’ve paid for and before Christmas, if it was well within the time period for Christmas shipping. So be aware of regional delays that could ultimately impact your shoppers’ experience and be on top of how this should be managed. While it’s never ideal for a package to be late or never arrive, empower your customer service team to use this “opportunity” to give your shoppers the best experience possible and build loyalty. Have a plan in place for dealing with packages delayed by weather and if time is of the essence for the customer (ex. it’s a gift ordered for a charity that has a deadline for submission), have a protocol in place for either reshipping or refunding their purchase so the shopper can choose the best option for their situation. As a brand or retailer, you can only control so much when it comes to the shipping process, but having the right attitude and approach when shipping mishaps happen due to widespread weather will turn a negative into a positive.

Be Human

It’s the weather and it’s beyond all of our control. We are all human. When a severe weather situation occurs, a brand or retailer should be showing their shoppers they are human, too. For this to be successful, it all needs to be done genuinely and with absolute authenticity, or else it comes across as opportunist. The success in this again lies with the boots on the ground, your store employees, to know what kind of outreach is appropriate, needed and can be addressed. During this last storm, I saw news stories about employees from a home improvement chain making rounds in neighborhoods helping people take care of fallen trees. A chain movie theater that offers dining and movies, knowing that the neighborhood behind one of its theaters did not have power, offered warm soup, coffee and free movies to those local residents who could walk to the theater. Just simple acts of kindness go a long way. Empower your employees and brand ambassadors to be human during these times, in store, online and out in the community and I have no doubt your shoppers will remember the kindness.

So let’s discuss. What retailers and brands have managed weather snafus really well? Who rose to the occasion?

Photo: Associated Press

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign Leads to Real Brand Loyalty

For a while now, I’ve been following with great interest Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty Campaign.

When it first started running in ‘04, their original ads were met with some criticism and snide remarks. Some publications wouldn’t even take the ads. “What? You want us to run ads with REAL women?? … of every shape and size?!”

But, Dove was brave (and still is). They stayed the course, and that is where brand loyalty is born. I switched to Dove after that campaign came out because, as shoppers, we vote with our wallets and I wanted to vote for Dove. I wanted to support a company dedicated to a new and profound “truth in advertising” and one that was intent on changing the unreasonable definition that our society had given to what beauty is and looks like.

On Monday, Dove posted their latest extension of this campaign on YouTube via a 3-minute ad — an experiment to reveal the way women view themselves.

There are so many things that strike me about this campaign.

From a strictly marketing standpoint, Dove has completely created, and now owns, the concept of BEAUTY. They have redefined a notion that had become very skewed, unattainable and unhealthy. Talk about establishing a brand as an authority in its space. Whoa.

Getting to the core of a target’s mind-set and emotions, in addition to understanding their behavior, and then creating something that is so inherently relevant and authentic is to be commended.

Understanding that women are their own worst beauty critics (only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful), the brand leveraged this insight into a positive and very moving experience for women.

From a strictly human perspective, Dove reaches into the hearts and psyches of women, showing us, again, how mean and unfair we can be to ourselves. I often say to those around me that I wish they could see themselves through my eyes. They would see how great/beautiful/kind they are.

Watching this latest experiment/ad, feeling a squishy discomfort, realizing what they were out to prove, makes me think I might need to take my own advice! Don’t you wonder what the drawing of your face would be if you were directing an artist to capture it?

This latest win from Dove feels as much to me like a public service announcement as it does an ad for a brand.

Well done.

Short-Term Cuts Lead To Long-Term Pain

As recently reported by Bloomberg news, shoppers are fleeing Walmart for rivals in large part due to massive cuts in staffing leading to a shortage of stock support…which in turn leads to empty shelves. According to one shopper interviewed,

If it’s not on the shelf, I can’t buy it,” she said. “You hate to see a company self-destruct, but there are other places to go.”

It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers.

When will companies learn that making decisions with an eye only on the immediate benefit to the balance sheet (and by extension, the shareholders) is rarely what’s best for the long-term health of the company? It’s odd for a corporation the size of Walmart to neglect the very basics of retailing such as having product available for customers, but this is the world we now live in, where “growth” and artificial savings take the place of the bedrock principles held by founder Sam Walton. Time will tell if they can right this ship before Target and Costco make irrevocable gains. Go check out the full article to read the rest of Walmart’s woes.

Out of the wallet and into the phone

My shoulders sag a bit every time I’m offered the chance to join a reward program that involves scribbling out my information on a paper form or being handed a plastic loyalty card or paper-punch card. 

Aren’t we well into the 21st century at this point? 


Better to offer nothing to your customer than another rewards card that goes into her wallet or on her key ring. Yes, paper-punch cards are simple to print. And yes, we’re very used to carrying plastic cards. But we already average 10 or more, and don’t want any more clutter.


 
I bet most shoppers prefer to use their phone number instead of sifting through their key ring or wallet anyway. And that’s a good start. The bigger prize, however, lies in having a more active conversation with your customer. And for that, you need to be on her smartphone. 


If you’re not ready or equipped to go it on your own and develop your own app, consider offering your rewards card through KeyRingTM, a nifty smartphone app that does all the heavy lifting for the retailer. And Apple’s upcoming “Passbook” app looks promising too.


For those retailers more inclined to DIY, Krogerand Safeway each have developed fairly robust mobile apps that allow users to review specials.