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Belk’s beacon-powered push notifications yield higher customer engagement

NEW YORK – A Belk executive at the NRF 105th Annual Convention & Expo said the retailer is conducting tests in the mobile messaging space by sending relevant content and coupons to shoppers’ smartphones, showcasing the potency of beacons for department stores.

During the “Exhibitor BIG !deas: Modernize the Retail Experience with Mobile Devices” session, executives from Belk, Apple, Ascena Retail Group and Luxottica Retail discussed the paramount importance of leveraging mobility to augment in-store interactions and drive sales. Beacons still remain a top desired tactic for many retailers, thanks to their ability to communicate with shoppers in fitting rooms, send targeted deals and offer customers additional item choices and styles.

“We’ve just completed a test using push notifications,” said James Morse, omnichannel technology lead at Belk, Inc. “We saw a dramatic increase in engagement because of that messaging, that beacon-powered relevance.”

Transforming business via mobility
Retailers’ primary use of mobile should be to create what is typically referred to as a “mobile moment.” Rather than take a process and enable it for smartphones, marketers must focus on executing an experience that feels contextual and relevant to consumers.

The Apple executive pointed out that mobility offers a major opportunity to transform business by revamping how marketers approach operational tasks, corporate communications and aiding in-store associates. Beacons also remain a helpful tool for brands seeking to offer better experiences at bricks-and-mortar locations, due to their ability to communicate greater product choices to shoppers.

Belk has been piloting tests in the relevant messaging space, which has enabled the retailer to better measure the engagement surrounding mobile. While the brand’s exact use of beacons was not specified, it is seeing positive customer responses, which could fuel sooner mass rollouts of the technology.

“I think by the end of the year, we’ll have a better idea of how that’ll fit into our consumer-facing mix,” Mr. Morse said.

Meanwhile, eyewear marketer Luxottica Retail is planning to integrate beacons into retail stores to track how often customers are returning. This strategy could be especially useful if brands want to target repeat shoppers with additional coupons to maximize revenue.

Coupons are quickly growing as a significant component of beacon-enabled proximity marketing thanks to strong redemption rates, with brands and retailers forecast to deliver 1.6 billion coupons a year by 2020, according to a new report from Juniper Research (see story).

All of the executives urged their fellow retail comrades to jump on the beacon bandwagon if they have not yet already done so. Mobile-savvy shoppers are already ahead of brands in terms of their smartphone usage, meaning retailers must hustle to catch up.

“You can’t wait for all of your infrastructure to be perfect,” Mr. Morse said. “You have to find scrappy ways to work around it.”

In-store mobile staples
Tapping mobile technology to bolster in-store experiences for associates and customers alike is another major benefit for retailers.

Ascena Retail Group, which owns brands such as Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant and Dressbarn, is leveraging mobile to enable technology in fitting rooms, promote customer engagement, conduct point-of-sale transactions and transfers and monitor pricing and inventory.

Over the holidays, Lane Bryant employed a slew of seasonal employees, which made the clocking in process take longer for in-store associates. Deploying iPads in flagship stores helped all associates clock in faster and cut down the process’s time window by 80 percent.

Brands should keep three major factors in mind when implementing new mobile applications or initiatives: they must be easy-to-use, personalized for internal and external use and seamless for support teams, customers and employees.

Luxottica Retail has approximately 14,000 devices deployed in stores, which help educate and train associates as well as consumers. Shoppers visiting a Lenscrafters location typically have a myriad of lens and style choices for their eyewear, prompting the brand to create a mobile app to aid the decision-making process.

Customers can virtually try on lenses and frames, and share the final images via social media. This allows friends and family to offer feedback on which styles are best-suited for shoppers. Additionally, if a particular pair of glasses is not available in one location, it can easily be ordered, preventing the brand from losing the sale.

“If we don’t have it in stock, we have it right there via the mobile device,” said Chantell Comberger, head of in-store tech at Luxottica Retail.

The Belk executive also admitted that mobile has greatly augmented the in-store experience, particularly for employees. It has tablet and handheld devices in all of its bricks-and-mortar shops.

“Like a lot of retailers, we have a lot of legacy systems, and included in that is our legacy point-of-sale,” Mr. Morse said. “We’re in the process of replacing those.

“One thing mobility did is help us leapfrog that. All of us are in a situation where we have to do a lot to catch up to our customer.”