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Marketers continue to tout beacons for their personalization capabilities and ability to facilitate targeted offers. But consumer interest has barely managed to rise above indifference, and most retailers are still in the experimental phase nearly two years after the introduction of Apple’s much-anticipated iBeacon, so the question remains whether beacons are still a technology on the verge or already a flash in the pan, according to a new eMarketer report, “Beacons for Retailers: Beyond the Hype.”
Using beacons as a source of data collection—and ultimately using shopper behavior as the real-world equivalent to web analytics—is a tactic that some marketers are pinning their hopes on. “With smartphones and wearables, we’re turning the physical world into a real-time digital world, and we’re going to be able to track the physical world just like we’re able to track the digital world, with beacons as a proxy to help understand what consumers are doing, where they’re going and what type of messages are creating action just like we do online,” said Jeff Malmad, managing director and head of mobile and Life+ at Mindshare North America.
A joint June 2015 study by Econsultancy and Signal looked at the usage of first-party data among marketers in North America. The leading sources of said data, including websites, point-of-sale data and email, were the usual suspects, but interestingly, beacons also made an appearance, albeit as the last choice. Nearly one-quarter of “strong ROI” companies collected data from beacons, compared with 8% of all others.
Of course, success involves not just collecting data, but using it in a meaningful way. In a separate Econsultancy study in partnership with ResponseTap, just 8% of agency professionals worldwide and 5% of client-side marketers cited in-store geotargeting technologies like beacons as a method of connecting online and offline behavior. Once again, this figure was low in comparison with more traditional tactics, but it’s notable that beacons made the list at all.
For marketers, the holy grail is pinpointing shoppers’ in-store location and using data such as past shopping behavior to offer highly personalized deals on the spot. But this idea remains mostly theoretical.
In practice, beacons are more likely to push a welcome message or general discount unrelated to a shopper’s location or preferences. And rather than being seamless, many implementations require active participation from consumers.
Pushed offers, the current go-to for marketers, don’t even have to be the end goal, according to Greg Ratner, co-founder of Troops. “There’s real value in completely passive information-gathering: So beacons don’t trigger any acts of messaging, but they gather data by what parts of the location you have been to and how much time spent at each location,” he said.
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