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Expert Column: How Beacons Help Grocers Boost Business


Grocers are gradually seeing the light and rolling out beacons in their stores.

Those hockey puck-to-quarter-sized devices are relatively inexpensive to deploy, and when placed around a grocery store, they offer the capability of transmitting via short-range Bluetooth to shoppers’ smartphones.

Here's how beacons work: A grocer carefully decides where to place them, usually near the entry and exit of the store. This allows the grocer to detect right away when shoppers enter the store, and provide some form of greeting and later an exit message.

The beacons can perhaps spur the shopper to buy the latest sale items in the store, as prompted by a message from the beacon. For example, the message the shopper gets might say that if she's there to get hot dogs, she should make sure to get the buns on sale in aisle 5, too.

If you're worried that your shoppers might get upset about these communiques, here's an important statistic, as based on Interactions' national poll: A majority of shoppers are open to the idea of merging mobile technology with their shopping experience, as 95 percent of women and 84 percent of men are willing to receive notifications from retailers while they shop.

However, this result doesn't mean that you can let go of your in-store staff. On the contrary, it's important to note that most shoppers (60 percent of men and 56 percent of women) would prefer to communicate with a store associate rather than via a mobile device.

Case Study

County Market, a Niemann Foods Inc. company, performed a pilot of beacons in a select group of stores located in Springfield, Ill. The stores did a push offer via beacons, and they found that anywhere up to 50 percent of shoppers at times were willing to open the offer and consider it.

One illustrative example the stores cited was a special offer of 10 percent off a total purchase: 20 percent of those who opened the offer opted to redeem it. County Market also found that offers for the deli and the bakery were the most likely to be redeemed.

Beacons aren't a savior – there are definitely some drawbacks that grocers need to keep in mind. A shopper needs to be willing to receive the alerts from a beacon, and so she must enable her Bluetooth, on top of downloading a relevant app to receive the messages.

Further, what might harm the willingness of shoppers to receive beacon messages is the deluge factor. If grocery stores inundate shoppers with such messages, even tech-savvy consumers will revolt and turn off the receiving aspects on their smartphones.

For now, grocery stores that make the first move on beacons are going to grab the shopper, with late adopters finding themselves trying to lure those shoppers back into their stores.

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