Expert Column: Will Beacons Change the Customer-Grocer Relationship?

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Expert Column: Will Beacons Change the Customer-Grocer Relationship?

By Timothy Perfitt , Twocanoes Software Inc. - 10/20/2014

If grocers could be helpful to customers on a whole new level, how might it affect the relationship? Thanks to beacon technology, we’re about to find out.

Beacons are small, low-energy devices that use Apple’s iBeacon technology to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices like Apple’s iPhone. A grocer’s app from the app store can easily be made beacon-aware so that the app will be notified when in proximity to a store’s beacons. By interfacing with your back-end system, the customer’s app can show a customized message on the lock screen based on proximity to a beacon.

A beacon located at the entrance can trigger a greeting to your customer by name and, if you wish, offer a same-day discount. Beacons located in the aisles can trigger app alert customers to special deals. But savvy grocers realize beacons are not just about promotions. They offer an opportunity to be truly useful to customers by addressing pain points like waiting at the deli/meat/fish counter and finding the items they seek.

Yes, you can set up your mobile app so that customers can query it for the location of an item. The location will be shown relative to where the customer is standing (not “pasta: aisle 6” but “this item is two aisles to your left, halfway down on the right-hand side”).

But what if customers could create a digital shopping list that shows each item’s location and sends a message if they bypass by the soda aisle after their spouse added Pepsi to the list? The app could also make recommendations based on past buying history (perhaps the type of marinated salmon you prefer is available at the fish counter this week).

If your deli is a bottleneck, you can ease the pain by allowing customers to check in by simply walking near the counter. They continue shopping and return when notified via lock screen that it’s their turn. Better still, set up your mobile app to let customers order deli items electronically and pick them up from a separate area that can be manned by any clerk in the store.

Of course, beacons can also help grocers with important goals like:

  • Speeding up checkout by consolidating loyalty programs and coupons on customer phones rather than in crowded wallets and messy coupon files
  • Determining the most effective store layout using data showing the routes shoppers take through your store
  • Allowing store personnel to quickly locate a customer who has used the store app to ask for help
  • Improving your loyalty program’s effectiveness by strategically placing a beacon or poster with QR code that encourages customers to join

As grocers deploy beacons and communicate with customers in new ways, it’s critical to focus on creating value for the customer rather than promoting certain items or brands. A random promotion is nowhere near as valuable as discounts on items a customer put on that day’s shopping list or buys regularly. And too many messages about items not of interest may cause customers to uninstall the store app, cutting off that mutually beneficial communication conduit.