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Simon expands iBeacon program to outfit more smart malls

Mall owner and manager Simon is expanding its use of Bluetooth-enabled iBeacon technology to create 200-plus  retail destinations in the United States and help bricks-and-mortar retailers evolve the shopping experience.

Simon’s deployment of Mobiquity’s Mobi-Beacon network, already in place in 75 of its premier shopping destinations, provides a unique, opt-in opportunity for customers to engage with retailers, brands and mall apps for timely and contextually relevant personalized offers, information and real-time experiences. Operating off the Mobiquity network retailers in Simon mall locations are able to reach numerous shoppers every week on their mobile phones.

“Beacons  are unique in their ability to provide hyper-accurate real-time indoor location data for apps,” said James Meckley, chief marketing officer with Mobiquity Networks. “Given that the technology was only introduced in mid-2013, I think the level of interest already shown by the retail industry is remarkable.”

“Because beacon-based campaigns effectively require a triple-opt-in, it is critical that advertisers keep the customer experience at the forefront of any engagement. Retail & brand apps that fail to provide valuable experiences to their users will quickly find the services turned off.

Competitive advantage
With streamlined apps, highly intuitive Web sites and same-day shipping functionalities widely available, retailers are struggling to increase foot traffic in-store. A smarter store that could replicate ecommerce experiences in a physical setting is now possible via beacons.

Beacons have potential in loyalty programs, payments, point-of-sale and help a retailer do battle with both off and online competitors.

Last October, Bloomingdale’s ran a campaign in two Simon malls with the goal of raising awareness for its Loyallist rewards program that enables shoppers to earn points for every dollar they spend.  Consumers were offered a high-definition video explaining the Loyallist program and how to participate during a four week period during which time 74,470 devices were prompted to download the content, 7.2 percent opted in and, of those, 75 percent engaged with the content.

Browsing store aisle with assistance from an accompanying app is already a reality for American Eagle Outfitters, Staples, and Nordstrom, which are using mobile devices as an intermediary to communicate offers and analyze digital shopping patterns.

“It is important to note that beacons and mobile apps go hand in hand,” Mr. Meckley said. “Apps ‘search’ for known beacons, and the beacons, in-turn allow the apps to very accurately determine some key metrics: where they are, what is around them and what action should be initiated by each app given that real-time information.”

“The more an app understands about the user’s real-time environment, the more likely the app will be able to deliver an experience that is relevant and valuable.”

Some stores are already installing kiosks and mirrors that double as responsive displays, as seen at Burberry. Using Kinect-type motion sensing technology and 3-D photography, shoppers may someday be able to stand in front of a smart mirror and try things on using a digital changing-room app. Smart displays can sense metrics regarding browsing habits and shopping patterns to deliver personalized recommendations and assess product layouts.

The expansion of the Mobiquity program across a broader number of Simon’s malls, Premium Outlet and Mills centers is expected to be completed by spring of 2015.

Replicating reality
Companion apps tied to beacon tracking are also being used by retailers to upsell and cross-sell items, and to customize shopping experiences. Macy’s  empowers its customer with the Shopkick app powered by ShopBeacon service. Customers navigate a store with their phone, and the app delivers offers via notifications depending on location. The notifications are customized according to specific departments and store sections. Similar services are being rolled out at Safeway and Giant Eagle grocery stores nationwide.

But there is a counter narrative which suggests consumers will be fearful of the seemingly omniscient presence of beacons as they shop, raising privacy and security concerns that can hurt adoption.

Most people feel less comfortable with their offline movements being tracked than their online movements, according to a recent Pew Report, which indicates that while many smart phone users want to use their phone to navigate, the majority do not want their phone’s navigational capabilities to be used to target them.

To deliver value to both the retailer and the consumer, marketers need to design a winning experience.

Once a brand understands how to strategically use beacon technology without unsettling shoppers, it can create physical retail experiences are so irresistible and immersive that the very idea of heading to a retail store is a looked forward to event.

“The reason you haven’t seen more large-scale campaigns can likely be attributed to the relative complexity of campaign deployment,” Mr. Meckley said.

“Remember that a beacon-driven campaign requires an ecosystem consisting of: a physically installed beacon network, one or more mobile apps programmed via SDK or API to ‘listen’ for the beacons, and finally the content and content management platform to determine the appropriate experience to provide for the user.”

“However, once this advertising ecosystem is in place, it will open up unprecedented opportunities for retailers and brands to engage their customer with contextually relevant experiences, information and offers on their mobile devices,” he said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York