Nebraska Furniture Mart makes a case for beacons

CHICAGO – At 560,000 sq. ft., Nebraska Furniture Mart can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Additionally, displays are changed and merchandise moved almost daily, making it harder for shoppers to find an item they saw even the day before.

        Jeff Douglas

The combination of beacons and digital shelf tags are solving problems for Nebraska Furniture Mart and its customers, GM of e-commerce Jeff Douglas told attendees at the 2016 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition Wednesday.

Founded in 1937 and acquired by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway in 1983, the company now operates four locations: the original in Omaha, Nebraska, and stores near Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; and Kansas City, Kansas.

As a low-price leader, the company found that digital shelf tags were a way to quickly and efficiently adjust pricing throughout the store. The devices served to track locations, and the addition of beacons helped build out a mapping system.
The program was first tested in 2014 along with an app built with way-finding capabilities, which gives shoppers turn-by-turn directions.

Beacons, while heralded as the next big thing in retail just two short years ago, have hit some roadblocks. But the size and breadth of product at Nebraska Furniture Mart makes for a compelling use case.

Still, Douglas advises retailers to avoid a few pitfalls when implementing beacons: First, make sure to have strong signals inside stores. Second, the app must work smoothly; shoppers who try it unsuccessfully won't give it a another chance. Finally, make sure to have strong product coverage in order to maximize its usefulness.

Beacons aren't for everyone, but those retailers with a large and engaged user base are making the technology work.