New vendor Tapcentive seeks to bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping by literally showing shoppers the path to beacons and other tracking technologies that deliver hyper-local offers.
Richard Cohene, the director of marketing and the mobile commerce chief at e-retailer Beyond The Rack, recently told Internet Retailer, “There is such a massive gaping hole between all the wonders of e-commerce and what you find in stores. When I walk into a physical store, I feel like I’ve stepped into history.”
Mobile commerce experts, even chain retailers themselves, agree that merchants generally have not yet made great use of one of mobility’s hallmarks: location. Sure, most chain retailers’ mobile commerce web sites and mobile apps have GPS store locators, and many have maps. But those are table stakes in m-commerce today.
The next big challenge in mobile commerce is using mobile technologies to bring into physical stores all the helpful and fun tools consumers have come to expect when shopping online, top m-commerce executives at retail organizations tell Internet Retailer.
Apple Inc. introduced iBeacons earlier this year, causing many merchants and vendors to give a serious think to in-store mobile marketing and customer service. (Apple has that effect on people.) Beacons are tiny pieces of hardware that can be placed just about anywhere in a store. They emit Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) wireless transmissions to communicate with mobile apps on smartphones. Most smartphones come standard with Bluetooth capabilities. Beacons can determine a smartphone’s location to within three feet. So a retailer, for example, could transmit a cologne offer to its app on a customer’s smartphone when he is browsing the cologne counter.
In the last year, new vendors aplenty have been popping up with mobile offerings to help chain merchants connect with smartphone-toting consumers in-store. The latest vendor to enter the mobile in-store fray is Tapcentive, which offers a wide-ranging system that uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy and Near Field Communication wireless technologies, and soon will add more mobile and wireless technologies including text messages, QR codes, geofencing, RFID and social APIs.
What stands out about Tapcentive’s approach to mobile in-store is visibility. To date, most vendors and merchants that have experimented with in-store mobile marketing have done so invisibly. That man at the cologne counter? He downloaded the retailer’s app and agreed to receive push notifications when he logged in. So all of a sudden he receives a push notification with that special offer—quite literally out of thin air.
Tapcentive argues the best way to use in-store mobile marketing is out in the open, where everyone can see it. This approach draws attention to the additional benefits customers can gain from their smartphones and apps, and fosters greater participation in in-store programs, which depend on consumers agreeing to allowing retailers to track their movements in stores, says Dave Wentker, CEO of Tapcentive.
“Beacons, Wi-Fi, cellular triangulation and GPS solutions are hidden and unknown to consumers,” Wentker says. “This presents challenges for both the consumer and the marketer in that there is no call to action for the consumer to trigger in-store engagement. Additionally, marketers have to rely exclusively on over-the-air and push-based engagement that may be intrusive to certain audiences.”
Tapcentive’s system is, initially, not push but pull. Rather than push a notification on a customer who may have agreed to being tracked without even knowing it, the customer pulls the retailer into her mobile space by actively tapping on Tapcentive-designed beacons that are placed strategically throughout a store in highly visible ways with signs concisely explaining what they are, how they work, and what consumers can get after a simple tap.
“Our platform includes visible touchpoints, like beacons with signs, that encourage and reward consumers for visiting stores, tapping their phones on the beacons, and engaging while shopping,” he says. “Additionally, Tapcentive has invested in delivering a platform that is technology-agnostic.”
When it comes to being “agnostic,” the vendor’s system can connect with virtually any smartphone, regardless of mobile operating system, manufacturer, model or technology in the device because the Tapcentive system uses various technologies to communicate with devices; in other words, it’s covered all the bases.
Tapcentive declined to reveal the cost of deploying its mobile in-store system. It’s currently in talks with initial retail clients.
On the mobile in-store front, Macy’s recently announced it would outfit all of its stores with Shopkick beacons. The retailer ran a test last year during the holiday season at Macy’s flagships in New York and San Francisco. Shopkick uses beacons to detect the Macy’s loyalty app on a shopper’s phone when she walks in a store, even if the app isn’t open, and send her personalized deals via push notifications, which typically trigger an alert tone and vibrate the phone. Macy’s says this is the largest retail rollout of beacons—at 4,000 devices. Initially, the app will alert shoppers to currently available Macy’s promotions, deals or discounts. In early spring 2015, Macy’s will tailor offers by specific departments in the store.
Beacons also have landed at more than 130 Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor department stores across North America and Canada. HBC Department Store Group, which owns the two retail chains, has partnered with Swirl, a beacon technology provider, to outfit its stores with beacons in a sizable retail beacon rollout. Swirl already works with such retail clients as Timberland, Kenneth Cole, and Alex and Ani.