Proximity marketing as a concept is not new. It is often described first in terms of the type of device it can address in the hands of a potential customer. Essentially the concept has always been sort of a “broadcasting system” that addresses mobile devices.
Wikipedia speaks of it as the “location” of a device like a particular type of cell, a Bluetooth or WiFi device, Internet devices with GPS, or a near field communication (NFC) device that reads radio-frequency identification devices (RFID) placed on shelf tags. These are used to launch location specific content from either local or Internet servers.
The RFID method has limitations when thinking about using it beyond scanning the tag itself, as it has a range of only a few inches. However a new version of Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) can send signals up to 150 feet. A subtle addition to Apple’s IPhone’s features called IBeacon is an “indoor positioning system” that uses BLE and can be used by proximity marketers to push information out to IPhones. Android devices have similar capabilities as they also support BLE and with both devices the additional drain on the customers battery is far lower with BLE than it is with NFC equipped devices.
Calling their proximity system a “Micro-targeted in-store mobile marketing platform”, and currently under patent review, Swirl Networks, Inc. is banking on the fact that “brick and mortar” sales still leads, with 90% of retail sales still taking place there, and the fact that over 50% of U.S. adults are now carrying a smart phone.
As a growing majority of folks are starting almost every purchase decision in front of a search engine, it is no wonder that eventually this will go beyond just limited broadcast range applications to provide the ability to interact directly with the customer even when they are searching competition within your store. These “in-store” platforms have the potential of providing customer service tools, in-store searches for both help and products, even ongoing alerts broadcast directly to the phone with special sales offers or other enticements.
Now enters the newest range of low power processors that can be combined with BLE chips in small devices to do very powerful things both locally and in interactions with the Internet. This is where the “Internet of Things” comes in.
Now the possibility exists that we will soon see these deployed in retail environments and allow for not only a direct interaction with a shopping customer but to keep a running data set on what they consider, buy or pass over. Imagine seeing a price change on the shelf just for you simply because you have their application enabled on your smart phone.
Swirl is even offering a mobile client software development kit (SDK) that enables retailers who use their system to build their own mobile applications with Swirl’s capabilities embedded in them. This provides for “including the ability to engage shoppers with highly targeted and personalized content based on indoor micro-location as determined by the SecureCast beacons. The same in-store mobile experiences can also be added to any third-party publisher’s app to expand audience reach and drive additional foot traffic to retail stores”, according to the SDK’s release notes.
Retailers of all sizes and product types will need to consider if these tools and a more mobile audience may be their way to hold back the advance of Internet based retailers into their customer base. Developing within systems like this does not have to be overly expensive and can be easily within the reach of even smaller retailers. If they are to take advantage of these new technologies and the growth of mobile Internet use, seeking outside expertise will be worth the investment.
At the end the important thing to note is mobility has brought folks back out and into stores. Now these brick and mortar operations have to use that mobility and the power of the Internet to win back their local audience.