Target's Beacon Deployment Is a Baby Step Toward Enhanced Shopping

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Target is deploying Bluetooth beacons to offer time-sensitive deals and product recommendations to shoppers in its stores, and it has more ambitious plans for the technology later in the year.

Minneapolis-based Target is initially testing beacons at 50 stores in New York, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle. Beacons are powered by Bluetooth technology and are about the size of a nightlight. The technology communicates with the retailer's mobile app on shoppers' phones.

Beyond the location and time-sensitive deals that are part of typical beacon deployments, Target plans to develop features such as "dynamically" re-sorting a consumer's shopping list as he or she moves through the store, similar to how smartphone maps re-route when a traveler veers off course. Target is additionally launching a service on the Target app that allows shoppers to request help from a store employee directly from the smartphone.

The retailer did not answer a request for comment by deadline, but it posted some details about the beacon service and iPhone app on its website.

When the consumer is near one of the 50 test stores, he or she will be prompted to "opt in" to share location data and receive push notifications; the store will limit these to two per shopping trip. A shopper in the baby department may receive product recommendations on the app's "Target Run" page, which works similar to a social media site's newsfeed, with new recommendations arriving at the top of the page.

Target will add features based on the results of the 50-store test, and it plans to extend beacons to more stores later this year. Target is also developing a similar feature for Android handsets.

Across the retail industry, beacons have expanded from early uses such as allowing a store to "detect" when PayPal mobile app users entered a store, to tailored uses to match a company's specific business model.  

Powa, for example, is matching beacons to advertising, allowing consumers to use their smartphone to buy an advertised product. Mozido is using the technology to enable person-to-person payments and Revel is using the technology to customize in-store messaging.


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