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Why magnetic positioning could be bigger than beacons: RetailMeNot exec

While beacons have been the focus of a lot of attention over the past couple of years, challenges include the costs and maintenance needs associated with the technology. During the session, How to Make Mobile Content Drive In-store Dollars, the executive stated magnetic positioning technology could eventually surpass beacons in importance.

“Beacon technology has a ton of hype but the infrastructure is expensive, they require maintenance and consumers don’t want to turn Bluetooth on at scale,” said Sonia Nagar, vice president of product and head of mobile apps at RetailMeNot. “I just don’t see beacons being a major technology.

“For magnetic positioning, it is still very early,” she said. “I think it will be a bigger deal than beacons in the future.

“You don’t need to have beacons so the cost is lower. It is a great technology we will be talking about more in the future.”

Indoor location
Magnetic positioning is based on mapping the magnetic fingerprint of the insides of buildings, with each square foot having its own unique signature. Using magnetic sensor data from a smartphone, marketers can then wirelessly locate objects and people inside a building.

The technology is still relatively new but offers some key advantages, per Ms. Nagar.

While retailers are required to map the inside of their stores using magnetic positioning, this is a one-time cost. Beacons have costs associated with purchasing the devices as well as with replacing the batteries.

Additionally, magnetic positioning can be used to locate any smartphone. For beacons to work, iOS users need to turn on Bluetooth in their phones.

The interest in beacons, magnetic positioning and other technologies points to the perceived advantages offered by mobile in being able to locate shoppers in a store and deliver contextually relevant hyper-local messages.

Competitive advantage
In general, location is an important advantage offered by mobile apps over the mobile Web, with retailers able to glean 24/7 insights into their customers. Reaching mobile users when they are nearby or in a store is important because consumers are highly open to new brands and switching brands.

“Investing in location is a key competitive advantage,” Ms. Nagar said.

Geofences are another important way that retailers can leverage mobile location, per Ms. Nagar.

RetailMeNot, which provides users with retailers’ promotional content, draws geofences around shopping malls and for users of the app that have opted-in for location-based messages, a push notification is triggered when they are nearby one of these malls. The brand sees double the conversion for these messages, with almost 12 percent of the traffic into the app driven by geofence push messages.

Mobile messaging
Retailers are struggling with encouraging consumers to download and keep their apps, with 50 percent having two or fewer retail apps on their phones and 14 percent never using those apps, pre RetailMeNot’s research.

One way retailers can address this challenge is by partnering with third-party apps that do have a big audience .

Retailers also need to make the investment in collecting shopper data to figure out the relevant patterns. This is a big investment, but the ROI can be high, per Ms. Nagar.

Google offers a good example of where collecting data is helping deliver greater contextual relevance on mobile. Google can send out a notification with a traffic update to users 15 minutes before the time that they regularly start their commute.

“Notifications are really becoming a micro platform in themselves,” Ms. Nagar said.

“It is the way to get messages out to consumers,” she said. “You need to have a value proposition to get iOS consumers to opt-in to push notifications.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York