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Express, RetailMeNot execs: Beacons will take off following testing phase

PALM DESERT, CA – Executives from Express and RetailMeNot at eTail West 2015 predicted that, while beacons are still in the testing phase, retailers can expect to see them take off in the next few years, alongside enhanced in-store Wi-Fi services.

During the “In-Store Panel Discussion: The Digitization Of In-Store To Maximize Revenues” session, the executives highlighted challenges their brands have experienced while working towards a cohesive mobile and in-store strategy. They also tapped beacons as the tactic to watch in the next several years, although transparency is paramount for retailers wanting to entice consumers to enable Bluetooth on their mobile devices and opt-in to the tracking technology.

“I’m at the inflection point between our dot com users, our mobile users, and now in-store,” said Jude Reter , vice president of product and engineering, ecommerce at Express, Columbus, OH. “My systems and my inventory are not in sync with my dot com at the moment.

“My biggest challenge is making sure my bricks-and-mortar inventory is in sync with my dot com.”

Beacons and retail
As beacons are arguably most beneficial to retailers seeking to enhance consumers’ in-store experiences and drive sales via targeted offers, Express and RetailMeNot admitted they expect to see the technology play a larger role in the mcommerce space, although it is still in a very early phase for many brands.

“We want to learn more about our consumers so we can provide them with a better experience,” said Keith Duncan, vice president of in-store and mobile at RetailMeNot, Austin, TX.  “We want to enhance the consumer experience, whether it’s from a customer service standpoint, or making them more knowledgeable about what’s going on in-store.”

Beacons are an optimal tactic for completing this goal, prompting RetailMeNot to begin testing the technology in late 2014 with select partners. The first phase consisted of discovering how many consumers have location-based notifications already enabled on their devices.

Another phase sent personalized messages to shoppers based on where they were standing in a bricks-and-mortar store.

“Beacons are very interesting and I think they’re the first inning of a very long ball game,” Mr. Duncan said. “We started to test in Q4 with four pretty large retailers in the US.

“I think everyone’s got to be willing to test and learn along the way,” he said. “The mobile device is not going away. It’s everyone’s first screen now.”

The executives also advised brands to consider adding enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities in-store.

Need for transparency
Although many consumers recognize the value beacons can offer them, others are still wary of enabling Bluetooth and tracking abilities on their smartphones. Brands and retailers that aim to roll out beacons this year must be forthcoming with consumers to prevent backlash.

“Transparency always has to be key,” Mr. Duncan said. “Once you lose the trust element, this whole thing goes down.

“There’s a very fine line between providing a great experience and creeping someone out. You have to be very careful about not over-messaging them.”

Express has not done much experimenting with Bluetooth yet, although it is continuing to gather more mobile data to drive conversions, as it has not seen an overwhelming amount in-store.

“It’s not going to be a silver bullet; you’re going to have to try a bunch of different skills to see what works for you,” Mr. Duncan said.

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York