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RetailMeNot deploys geofencing at 180 colleges for back-to-school blitz

Austin, TX-based RetailMeNot is partnering with a handful of retailers, including Oakley and Tilly’s, to distribute the retailers’ back-to-school promotional offers to college students via the RetailMeNot app. The campaign will rotate among different retailers for a week at a time for five weeks on the 180 largest college campuses in the country.

“We know these students need to get supplies as they arrive on campus,” said Keith Duncan, vice president of in-store and mobile at RetailMeNot. “Obviously this campaign speaks to that demographic that’s on their mobile phones, and the timing of the offers as they arrive back to school makes it super contextually relevant.”

Mr. Duncan mentioned the promotion Thursday during a panel presentation called “Mobility’s impact on the In-Store Experience: Taking Advantage of Devices to Drive In-Store Sales” at the Mobile Summit at eTail East 2014 in Philadelphia.

Striving for relevance
RetailMeNot has learned through trial-and-error that location-based targeting needs to be carefully considered to ensure that the message recipients are not bombarded with irrelevant notifications.

“We learned some valuable lessons from geofencing,” said Mr. Duncan. “We grew to 15,000 locations in one year, and we we quickly learned that we were over-pinging people.”

He said over-messaging based on location-driven notifications is a sure path to app deletion.

As result of some early mis-steps, RetailMeNot now has a policy in which a customer has to be inside a store for at least two minutes before they receive a notification. That helps prevent “drive-by” pings in which people get messages from stores in their vicinity where they may have no intention of shopping.

“If you walk into a mall and 50 stores have beacons and you get pinged by every single store, it will be a terrible user experience,” Mr. Duncan said. “You have to pay close attention to it, because a good experience will go bad very quickly if you don’t.”

Emery Skolfield of Office Depot and Keith Duncan of RetailMeNot

He said the next step for RetailMeNot will be to incorporate a higher level of personalization.

“We want to understand what brands do you personally like, and build a customer profile.”

With the back-to-school campaign, RetailMeNot is giving college students the option of whether they want to shop in the stores, or use the coupon online. Mr. Duncan said the company is assuming it will generate between one million and two million impressions per week.

It is not the first time the company has done a college-based campaign. Previously it has used geofencing at the University of Texas for a tie-in with Pizza Hut at the university’s Orange-White Game.

Some retailers and brands have begun testing beacons in various ways in an effort to deliver timely messages, but others are waiting on the sidelines.

Office Depot, for example, has done some limited testing using beacons, said Emery Skolfield, senior director of digital marketing at the Delray Beach, FL-based chain. He spoke on the eTail East 2014 panel with Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Skolfield said his company’s efforts around mobile are more focused on learning more about what customers are searching for on their mobile devices in-store, and how they are using the mobile app.

“Mobile is a powerful tool in that path-to-purchase journey, and it helps build that bridge for us. “From a marketing perspective, we believe mobile apps and the mobile site should be used in brand-building, and it should not be just about how they can be used in ecommerce.”

Final Take

Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.