Solving In-Store Connectivity is Key to Serving Up Mobile

           Laura Heller

Mobile is the top topic in the retail industry today driving customer engagement, loyalty and sales, but there's one thing getting in the way — in-store connectivity.

As shoppers, we've all been there. Pull into the parking garage of a store or wander a few feet from the entrance and…there goes the cellular signal. A determined enough shopper might search for a wifi network, but those are rare enough in stores, even in those with an attached Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) where free wifi is otherwise expected.

But what about all that data showing spikes in mobile use, that shoppers are engaging with retailers and brands at rapidly increasing rates? They are, but not necessarily while inside the store.

That's what makes low-frequency bluetooth (BLE) technology so intriguing and with the news that Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iBeacon has been deployed in its first retail environments, BLE was buzzing at the BIG Show.

Developed by InMarket, the micro-location technology uses a low-energy Bluetooth signal to enable mobile app experiences with higher accuracy than GPS. Transmitters are placed throughout the store and shoppers who have downloaded the app are detected when they enter. Shoppers who opt-in can be reminded of items a spouse just placed on their shared list, earn loyalty rewards, or be directed to a custom special offer.

iBeacon mobile shopping is now available in more than 150 U.S.Giant Eagle and Safeway supermarkets and additional retailers and markets will be launching in the coming months.

Expect lots of activity around this technology as new products, programs and players emerge looking to develop around the mobile technology, as evidenced by several on display at NRF's BIG Show.

Shelfbucks started developing BLE products two years ago in conjunction with Apple's iPhone 4s, but ultimately uses BLE and NFC to work with Apple and Android devices. The shelf tags can be added throughout the store and are meant to be highly visible to shoppers who can tap or beam product information, compare prices and access promotions easily with their mobile devices.

It all happens on a proprietary network, no wifi or wireless signal needed.

BLE has an edge over NFC in stores, according to many BIG Show attendees. Whereas NFC requires a shopper to place a phone within a few centimeters of a reader, BLE recognizes a smartphone tucked into a shopper's pocket or handbag, and can notify the shopper there's something they might be interested in, something to engage. Transactions are speedier too, further encouraging customer engagement.

Best yet, it helps solve that in-store connectivity issue, bringing mobile into stores and creating a useful application for the shopper, one that is controlled by the retailer itself. --Laura