Over the past three or four years, beacons have been lauded as a breakthrough technology for the world of retail marketing.

Delivering up-to-the-minute, opportunistic marketing offers and promotions to customers as they arrive in the vicinity of a store, or even as they approach a specific product display, seemed set to go mainstream.

This revolution in triggered marketing campaigns would give marketers amazing new insights into shopper behaviour and the types of offers and incentives likely to trigger purchase from customers shopping at different times of the day, at different locations within a store, and so on.

Yet fast forward to 2016 and the question now being asked is whether this will finally be the year that beacon technology takes off; in reality, beacon hype has significantly outweighed business value to date.

Some retail marketers have been using beacons to deliver context-based promotional content to smartphone users as they navigate a store, but most are failing to grasp the use-cases. We’re talking about marketers that have had to start monitoring, analysing and creating content for a huge number of new channels over the past few years.

Many are overwhelmed by the extent to which their remits have increased, not to mention drowning in data from all of these different channels. It’s no wonder that they haven’t rushed to embrace a technology that can be expensive and time-consuming to implement and which requires a huge amount of trial and error testing to get right.

Furthermore, at the most basic level, if a customer doesn't have the right app or has Bluetooth switched off, they can't connect to the beacon. This is a huge limitation, as it essentially means that marketers aren’t targeting their most engaged retail customers, but are targeting a random selection of users based on arbitrary smartphone usage criteria, and giving them offers and incentives that their loyal customers may miss out on.

It is entirely possible that some dedicated retailers may well hone and refine their beacon deployments so that they deliver real value in 2016. But for the vast majority of businesses, the technology looks like once again to be a non-starter, begging the question of what can realistically be done to better engage customers in-store.

Guest WiFi

The reality is there’s a much more simple means of gathering presence and location data about retail customers, as well as marketing to them in-store. The answer is using guest Wi-Fi, which many retailers already offer free of charge to their customers.

It’s now possible to take information from existing Wi-Fi access points to determine individual customer locations – even if the customer isn’t logged onto the Wi-Fi at the time – providing valuable insights about footfall and how customers are navigating the store.

Note that, unlike beacons, this information is non-intrusive and serves merely to inform retailers about customer behaviour, rather than spamming store visitors with potentially irrelevant messages.

Presence Analytics looks at footfall traffic to see how well locations draw in customers, how captivated customers appear to be when in a specific location and how often they return to the location. Knowing the most and least popular times and days can help businesses improve their marketing strategies as well as enhancing core day-to-day operations.

Combined with this, Location Analytics shows where customers gather and spend most of their time on-site. It allows businesses to visualise on a floor plan the areas and displays that attract the most attention, so they can determine merchandise placements for optimal reach.

Points of friction can also be spotted, and businesses can work to reduce friction by allocating extra support and security. Presence triggers can even be used to deliver relevant content tailored to specific customers’ interests.

Again, the difference here with beacons is that retail marketers are only actively targeting those that are logged onto the Wi-Fi network – a far more reciprocal value exchange. Customers are often very willing to receive promotional messages in return for free Wi-Fi, while the personal information they supply at the login stage can even be used to help determine the sort of offers and promotions they receive.

Furthermore, retailers can tell whether the customer in question has logged onto the Wi-Fi before – implying brand loyalty – and can thus tailor the promotions so that they favour those making repeat visits.

There are of course a whole host of other benefits to deploying this type of approach to in-store customer engagement, such as meeting genuine customer needs for store navigation guidance, shopping suggestions and other store information, all of which is immediately relevant to where the customer is located and where they are going.

Used creatively, this type of Wi-Fi-enabled location-based service could be a far more viable option for marketing to customers in-store, in real-time, one that causes beacons to fall by the wayside yet again in 2016.

Technology provider, Cloud4Wi, helps brands get more out of their Wi-Fi networks to provide superior on-site mobile experiences and gain valuable insights


By Elena Briola, VP Marketing at Cloud4Wi



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