Does Sports Arena Test Make Bluetooth In Retail Look Promising?

As retailers try and explore every possible way to squeeze revenue out of smartphones, tactics for leveraging short-range Bluetooth have been rare. The security issues and the very narrow window of opportunity make it daunting.

But there are some opportunities, such as when a consumer is standing in front of a mannequin, wanting to know more about the clothing on display. Or perhaps when a consumer is walking near a product that a CRM sweep says is on that customer's "can't resist" list.

For those who take a long view of short-range, a very interesting small proof of concept for Bluetooth was deployed at a Florida sporting event back in February. It was at a 6-hour-long Tampa Bay Rays baseball fan fest event.

The team deliberately decided to keep the test low-key, to see how the fans would react if it wasn't an overly loud promotion. "There was very little awareness--just a couple of small signs--and the offers were pretty generic," said Darcy Raymond, the team's VP for Branding and Fan Experience.

Sean Marra, a founder and senior partner of one of the vendors involved, an outfit called E-Push, said he found the results quite good.

"During that period, we had 1,098 downloads from the Bluetooth advertising that accepted the Rays’ Fan Fest offers," Marra said. "The Rays told us that, during the same period, more than 100 fans redeemed those offers, which could only be redeemed at one location in the stadium. When you analyze the results, we had a more than four percent response to the Bluetooth advertising and, of that, a 10 percent redemption during a very time-constrained and hectic event with countless distractions."

Let's first put the caveats on the mobile table. A sporting event, where customers pretty much have to stay in one seat for many hours, is not an ideal model for a retail store, where customers can move on the instant they get a little bored. (This particular test was more of a tradeshow environment, though.) And these figures are being released by people who have a strong vested interest in making this trial look successful.

That said, though, this proof of concept does make the potential for true Bluetooth retail usage appear slightly less daunting. Indeed, it makes Bluetooth look downright promising. The question is: Will it move from promising to delivering? Given that it's Bluetooth, it may be a very short distance to move. But if the signal's dead, a millimeter might as well be a mile.