Beacons' promise burns bright

       Laura Heller

There are few hotter topics in retail right now than the promise of beacon technology. Reaching shoppers where they can be most influenced is the holy grail of marketing, and beacons will enable that very thing.

Push messaging is both enticing and risky. Get it wrong and brands risk alienating shoppers by being either too pushy or a tad creepy.

But get it right, and the world is your oyster.

I recently attended the Mobile Shopping Summit in Arizona, where Susan Preski, director of mobile product development for Marriott International spoke of the promise mobile held. And while Marriott is saddled with more than few barriers that will sound familiar to retailers—multiple brands, departmental silos and legacy systems—there is so much promise in proximity marketing that I found myself fantasizing about a near future.

Because while the focus right now is on delivering deals via push messaging using beacons, the hospitality industry is perhaps the best embodiment of mobile's promise.

While Marriott is focused on how mobile could help reduce costs for the company by replacing room locks and struggling to create a seamless experience for multiple brands, it is also in the enviable position of having an incredibly large and loyal customer base. Marriott Rewards is the top-ranked loyalty program in its industry, according to J.D. Power. There are more than 40 million members that stay in the company's close to 4,000 locations under 18 separate brands.

Many business travelers count themselves among these loyalists, who are the sweet spot of any consumer business. Mobile could help unlock more spending from these already loyal customers. 

Beacons sensing a late arrival could inform a guest that room service is available and prompt an order. An exhausted conference attendee could be tempted with an available massage appointment or spa visit, after a long day when a beacon captures their return. A gentle reminder that the club floor is serving snacks or there is a popular sporting event being shown at the bar gets that guest to interact with the brand and foster even greater loyalty.

Not only would all of these increase the folio size, but would also offer an incredible service to the guest.

Entertainment venues are early beacon adopters, helping event goers to locate seats, restrooms and concession stands. There are gamification components that boost brand (team) interaction, and ways to offer truly value-added services.

Malls will be the next area in which beacons get an opportunity to really shine. Imagine a time when shoppers can utilize the mall's own app to find stores, current sales and get offers. And when used in conjunction with the many existing apps already on shoppers' smartphones, the possibilities are endless.

An app like Fandango that shows movie times and sells tickets could push a reminder that a movie is starting soon, or an alert that the last show of the day is about to begin. The mall may be closing, but a reminder from Yelp that restaurants are not, could prompt a shopper to linger for another hour, have dinner or indulge in a wine tasting.

The promise of beacons does, indeed, burn bright. But it lies in so much more than delivering a deal. —Laura