Mobile tech: Connectivity beyond beacons

AUSTIN, Texas — Beacons are hot, there's no doubt about it, but some of the buzz at SXSW interactive is around additional forms of location-based technologies such as digital watermarking.

Digital watermarking is essentially when a message is delivered by an audible signal, and the technology was the subject of a panel at SXSW moderated by FierceMobileRetail titled "Mobile Tech and the Retail Revolution."

Companies like Mood, purveyors of Muzak, can send a digital watermark though a sound system, whether music is playing or not. That watermark can only be heard only by dogs and picked up by cellphones, according to David Van Epps, chief product officer, Mood Media.

Mood has partnered with Shazaam, meaning that shoppers with the Shazaam app—which sits on the list of the 25 most downloaded apps today—can Shazaam a song and receive a message designed by and delivered on behalf of the retailer or brand.

In contrast to beacons, programs such as these actually let the shopper pull, rather than be pushed, information. There's also an opportunity to use music streaming programs to build loyalty and increase the frequency of shopper visits. In-store signage prompts shoppers to go to Shazaam for an offer, even as the signals are already being beamed through a store's sound system via existing parterships with Muzak and Mood to provide in-store audio.

Mobile is all about reaching shoppers in-store, but it's also about a lot more than shopping. Having more options to reach shoppers beyond WiFi and beacons makes sense for both large and small retailers: it satisfies the need for speed. If the upcoming holiday season is anything like the last, having a sound-enabled mobile strategy in place is a must.

U.S. mobile sales in November and December of 2014 constituted 22.6 percent of all online sales—up 27.2 percent from the same period in 2013, according to IBM Digital Analytics.

But more significantly, mobile traffic was 45 percent of all online traffic—up 25.5 percent from 2013. This distinction is important because shoppers are proving more likely to interact with a brand or merchant on a smartphone than any other activity.

"On Black Friday, 10 percent of our iPhone app revenue was from guests purchasing on their phone while they were simultaneously shopping in one of our stores," Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target, said during a call with analysts.

So shoppers are both interacting with and buying from retailers on mobile while in a physical location.

Mobile is now so important to retail strategies that Target's Cornell has dubbed his approach "brick and mobile."

At SXSW, one panelist noted that mobile was now the first point of contact a brand has with consumers. Another said it was the last point of contact.

Whether first or last, or both, mobile is hot, and reaching shoppers in stores is a must.

Related stories:
Ted Baker mannequins communicate with customers via beacons
Are beacons ready for their close up?
Beacons' promise burns bright
Beacon over messaging causes app use to plummet 313%
Beacons increase mobile ad engagement 500%