Mobile Wallets, GPS & Beacons: How To Dominate The “Next Moment” Of Local Search

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I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call beacons the shiny new object of local marketing. More than half of the top 100 retailers in the United States (including Target) are testing beacons, and their use is not limited to retail.

But, like most shiny new objects, beacons are useless in and of themselves. I believe that the real local marketing opportunity lies within the mobile wallet, not in beacons. 

Enterprises with multiple locations should focus not on beacons but on how beacons can strengthen their mobile wallet offers. Coupling proximity-based technologies such as beacons or GPS notifications with a strong mobile wallet offer will deliver customers to your register, not just to your storefront.

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Owning The “Next Moment” With Mobile Wallets

Consumers are accelerating the sales funnel on their mobile devices, rapidly moving from search to purchase. (Nearly half of consumers trying to decide on a restaurant do their local search within an hour of actually going, according to Google.)

Being present for mobile searches is an important element of local search, but enterprises need to go beyond “being present” at a time when consumers are collapsing the sales journey with mobile. 

Enterprises need to own the “next moment,” or the action that occurs when someone finds your brand on search. Mobile wallets are the right technology at the right time to dominate local marketing.

Mobile wallets empower enterprises to own the next moment — by driving foot traffic to a store and also by creating more revenue from consumers who are in your store already.  Just like online search results, these technologies can catch users when they are shopping — at the very moment that their intent to purchase is strong. 

A contextually relevant mobile wallet offer (such as an offer for cold care products delivered to someone on a chilly winter’s day), creates sales, not just foot traffic. A mobile wallet offer that rewards customers for trying on clothing after they’re already in your store increases in-store revenue.

Consumers are ready for mobile wallets, too. Consider:

Mobile Wallets & Beacons

So, how do mobile wallets relate to beacons? Beacons just might be the shiny object you need to activate a mobile wallet program — or they might not.

On the surface, beacons hold great promise. So long as a consumer possesses a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone capable of picking up Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals, businesses can use beacons to deliver location-based content to people when they are close to (or, more likely, inside) a store. 

And therein lies their appeal: enabling context-aware content, such as offers about special sales and deals delivered to a shopper’s smartphone while she’s browsing merchandise — offers she might overlook had a business not alerted her. 

But beacons have their drawbacks. For example:

  • They are unproven and still in the experimental phase for enterprises.
  • Standard beacons have a limited range compared to other alternatives such as GPS technology, making them less useful for driving in-store traffic and more applicable for enhancing the in-store experience.
  • Beacons require consumers to perform some of the heavy lifting, such as turning on their mobile phones’ Bluetooth, which they might not be likely to do. And although it’s possible to couple beacons and mobile wallet offers without needing to ask customers to download a native app, enterprises typically need to use native apps with beacons to manage more sophisticated functions such as tracking consumer in-store behavior during repeat visits.

Beacons are undoubtedly useful for large-scale, high-density areas like sporting events and festivals. But your brand might not be ready for them, especially if you operate smaller storefronts — as is the case with, say, a small clothing boutique. Instead, you might want to consider first an alternative such as simpler GPS technology.

Using GPS Technology

The GPS has been around since the 1970s, and we often associate their consumer use with in-car navigation systems. Companies can also use GPS technology to perform a number of functions, such as to push notifications directly to a user’s device.

GPS has a stronger range than a beacon, making the GPS a more attractive choice to share offers with consumers while they are outside your store, whereas a beacon has more appeal for enhancing the in-store experience (which is the focus of Target’s rollout).

Should You Be Using These Location-Based Technologies?

If you, like many of us, are attracted to the shiny customer experience opportunities that the promise of beacon technologies offers, first address how mobile wallets will support your local marketing strategy. 

Address the questions that will will affect whether you use a beacon and how. Those questions include:

  • What local marketing problem am I trying to solve? Do I need to drive more traffic to my stores, or do I want to increase share of wallet from shoppers who are in-store already? If your primary objective is to drive foot traffic, then deploying simpler GPS technology might be a better choice than beacons to support your mobile wallet program. If you need to do both, you might need a combination of both types of technology.
  • How robust is my mobile wallet program? Do I want to drop one-off offers, or am I integrating offers in context of a more sophisticated, ongoing mobile wallet program? You may not need a native app to manage one-off offers. But you will probably need one for a more robust program with rich offers and long-term customer tracking.
  • Are my offers compelling, and am I taking advantage of seasonal opportunities to create more relevant, contextual deals? If your mobile wallet offers are spammy, beacons and GPS technologies are going to make your problem worse.

Once you have these questions answered, start figuring out which technology is right for you. As you do so, be flexible: no matter what you choose, the technology is going to change. 

I’m already seeing the emergence of technologies that could disrupt beacons and GPS systems, such as the recent launch of the IndoorAtlas indoor positioning system (IPS), which relies on a building’s “magnetic signature” to help shoppers pinpoint the location of products and other people inside large buildings such as shopping malls.

No matter what happens, keep your priority focused where it belongs: converting more searchers into customers by owning the “next moment.”

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