Macy's Rollout Goes Beyond Beacons

Macy's recently announced the largest deployment of beacon technology in retail, with more than 4,000 ShopKick devices planned for installation across all of its stores in the U.S. While it is encouraging to see a retailer the size of Macy's embracing proximity marketing, we think there is a lot more that Bluetooth can enable for brands.
Commercial platforms such as ShopKick are limited in their ability to connect a customer experience to the brand. Instead, they generalize an experience across multiple brands by gamifying the in-store experience into a scavenger hunt for "kicks" – points that are awarded to users for performing various in-store tasks. In fact, many users have figured out how to exploit apps like ShopKick to get more points since the application will award "kicks" for scanning the barcode of certain products in-store (assuming that the user would have to walk through the store to find the item). Sites have popped up that let ShopKick users share barcodes so they can print them out, walk into a store, and then immediately scan the UPC codes without needing to find the product on the shelves. Yes, it gets customers in the store, but is it really optimizing dwell time and engagement?
Additionally, commercial apps that are separate from a brand's app divorce the customer's intent from a deeper interaction with a brand like Macy's. Instead they replace potentially meaningful brand engagement with another incentive around gathering points to cash in for other items. And those prizes include competitors to Macy's, such as gift cards to Target, TJ Maxx, JC Penney, and other retailers. Conceivably I could walk around a Macy's store gathering "kicks" and then trade those in for a gift card to a competitor without ever spending a dollar in Macy's.
Furthermore, ShopKick diminishes a brand's ability to tailor notifications, and risks flooding the shopper with a deluge of notifications with little thought given to targeting or contextualization. How can they provide meaningful information if they don't know your brand or your customers? One of the biggest challenges with beacon deployments like this is user retention: consumers will opt-out if the notifications don't provide value.
Technology should make sense and provide value for both the brand and the customer. Unfortunately, off the shelf deployments tend to fall short on delivering those experiences. Retailers should invest in technology that is cohesive with the brand and integrated with their loyalty programs. It should also enable more granular control over how, when, and why they engage their customers.
Charlie Miller is associate partner and Jonathan Spooner is a retail strategist, both for Control Group, a strategy firm using technology and design to help clients create goals and achieve them.
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