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Macy's Tests Shopkick's ShopBeacon at New York, San Francisco Stores

The Bluetooth tags enable the retailer to share promotional data about its merchandise with consumers who have downloaded and opted in to the Shopkick app.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 09, 2013

Macy's is the first retailer to launch a limited pilot of an indoor positioning system known as shopBeacon, from Shopkick, a shopping mobile application developer whose Bluetooth low energy (BLE) ID tags gained a boost in September with the release of the BLE-compatible Apple iOS 7 operating system (see Companies Deliver New Apps for Bluetooth Beacons). BLE technology (which Apple calls iBeacon) transmits data via a Bluetooth connection to BLE-compatible devices, such as phones and tablets. The retailer is currently testing the technology within several departments at two of its stores, to send promotional information to participating shoppers' mobile phones once the phone receives a transmission from beacons installed at one of the store locations.

More than 6 million consumers in the United States already utilize the app to receive promotions from participating stores via GPS technology in their smartphone, which identifies when a shopper is in close proximity to that business.

The Shopkick phone app
In fact, Macy's has been working with Shopkick since the company's July 2010 launch, to trial the GPS-based system that would bring location-relevant data to consumers via their mobile phones. Shopkick was established to develop the GPS-based app—which the company's founders dubbed a "shopkick signal"—that verifies when a user is in-store via its longitude and latitude measurements, and then provides a "kick" to that person in the form of a promotional offer related to that store.

"We knew that an app that relies solely on GPS would not suffice as a shopping application," says Cyriac Roeding, Shopkick's CEO and cofounder. Most cell phones' GPS measurements have what he describes as an error radius of as much as 500 yards, so pinpointing an individual's location based on his or her phone's GPS data was not possible. Instead, the company wanted a user's app to begin offering "kicks" as soon as that individual reached a specific location, such as the store's entrance.

Shopkick's Cyriac Roeding
"Given our focus on creating the most amazing presence technologies possible," Roeding says, "we started working on a BLE-iBeacon-compatible solution a year ago." Shopkick already anticipated the inclusion of iBeacon technology in Apple's new iPhone 5, and had determined that BLE's relatively long read range—10 to 50 meters (33 to 164 feet)—made it more suitable than Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which has a read range of only a few centimeters and is supported by Android smartphones and tablets, but not devices manufactured by Apple.

"We bet on this technology, not NFC, and built out a full retailer and consumer solution," Roeding says, that includes software on a hosted server, a phone app and software to be used onsite by the store, "all working together securely." The company also provides battery-powered shopBeacons, each of which function as an active RFID tag, emitting a 2.4 GHz signal encoded with a unique identifier to BLE-enabled smartphones and tablets within range. The app is available for download at the iTunes and Googleplay sites.

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