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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

The shopBeacon system also includes an RF transmitter, known as the "Shopkick Signal," that is installed at a store's entrance or another key location and sends a user's smartphone its first "wakeup" transmission, triggering the app to activate. A message is then sent to the phone, reminding the user to opt into the Shopkick service. The system does not operate unless a phone user opts in, so even if a shopper has downloaded an app, that user will still be asked to opt in each time his or her phone is detected, before that individual begins receiving data.

Once the opt-in has occurred, users can begin receiving rewards or promotional information based on their locations within the store, such as in a particular department.

The Shopkick Signal transmitter (top) and a battery-powered ShopBeacon ID tag
From that point forward, as a shopper moves around a store, the iBeacon or BLE technology built into his or her phone identifies when that phone has come within range of a beacon device (by receiving a transmission). Customers can also be invited to "like" a specific product, enabling them to receive promotional details specific to similar items. In that way, Roeding explains, consumers can be rewarded for browsing and buying specific goods.

The technology can also provide data to retailers indicating the number of people who walk through a specific area, based on the quantity of BLE tag transmissions received by the phones. That information can help stores gain a better view into the extent to which the Shopkick solution is influencing where customers go. For example, if shoppers receive details about shoes upon entering the store, the system can identify how many of those individuals then actually proceed to the shoe department.

Macy's began working with Shopkick as it developed the shopBeacon technology, and agreed to trial the solution at two of its stores: Macy's Herald Square in New York City, and Union Square in San Francisco. The trial, which began last month, consists of numerous beacons installed within specific departments. According to Shopkick, the shopBeacon technology is being tested by only select group of users, while the general public continues to use the GPS-based version of the app. Macy's declined to provide details regarding the pilot, or about its future plans for the technology, for this story.

The shopBeacon solution works for those carrying iPhones with BLE capability, or Android phones (version 4.3 or later), which also employ BLE technology. This, Roeding acknowledges, is currently a small group of mobile phone users. "But since Americans exchange their cellphones, on average, every 18 months," he adds, "we expect 75 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. to have BLE 18 months from now."

Shopkick already has 15 retail partners, including Target, Best Buy, Old Navy, American Eagle, Crate & Barrel, JCPenney, and Sports Authority, the company reports, as well as the owners of more than 150 product brands, including Sony, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Mondelez, Oreo and Ritz. Some of these companies, he says, are currently piloting or preparing to trial the shopBeacon solution.

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