Despite the cold, rainy day in Palm Springs – it was warmer in Boston when I left for eTail than it was here! – there was some great discussion at the eTail West Mobile Summit regarding how retailers are evolving their customer engagement strategies with mobile tactics. Having the opportunity to host one of the roundtable discussions focused on Proximity Marketing, I picked up some key takeaways on how mobile and proximity technology is impacting retailers. Here’s a quick summary of those discussions.

There’s an intrigue regarding proximity marketing

Very few retailers were using or seriously considering using indoor proximity marketing tactics. However, everyone seemed to be genuinely curious about it. I spent a good amount of time talking about how some of our customers are using proximity marketing like beacons. From the hypermarket wanting to gather more customer feedback via exit surveys to the automotive manufacturer Volkswagen China wanting to amplify their launch of the new model through event apps and driving footfall traffic in auto shops for test drives.

Mobile app or mobile web?

Most the conversation regarding mobile involved mobile web – responsive websites, mobile optimized content and emails and so forth. When asked, most retailers said they didn’t have a mobile app at all, and a few said they had one, but it didn’t perform or wasn’t in use anymore. While mobile responsive websites are critical to retailers’ e-commerce success, overlooking the power of the mobile app in their tool kit is a shame. Apps perform better in many areas, so a blend of web + app is crucial for a mobile optimized experience for customers. Add to that the potential of revamping an existing app and leveraging already completed work is a huge opportunity.

Geo-fence or beacons? Which is better?

There are pros and cons to both location technologies. Geo-fencing is when you place a radius around a particular address or coordinate – say a quarter mile – and you can know when someone has entered or exited that specific radius. Beacon technology allows you to go much more granular indoors. You can know when someone is entering or exiting a specific doorway, and get discrete information about their location and traffic patterns inside a store. However, beacons require a mobile app with which to communicate. The beacon itself is “dumb” – just collects data and software need to then do something with that to make it actionable. So, retailers must evaluate their goals and existing technologies first before determining which location technology is best for them.

Challenges or roadblocks to adoption

The challenges of implementing location-based marketing tactics were widespread. In general, everyone felt the vision was there, but getting into the “how” was the tough part. For example, getting buy-in to invest in new technologies or projects to pilot location-based campaigns was one issue. However others were concerned about the technical savviness of their in-store staff and the ongoing training and maintenance of it. But one thing was consistent – everyone agreed at some point one must invest the time and effort to adopt the new approaches to stay competitive.

What if I’m e-commerce only?

A few times, online-only retailers chimed in and said, “we’re pure e-commerce only, we don’t have stores so this isn’t relevant to me.” Ah but we quickly discovered that is a myth! Even online-only retailers benefit from proximity marketing tactics. Are there areas where you know your target customers might be, say a shopping mall or an event? How about competitors’ stores? Would you like to know when and how often your target customers were there? There’s a wealth of information to be learned from a person’s location that gives retailers – online only or not – insights into that customer to be able to engage and ultimately convert that person.

So it was a pleasure to sponsor the Mobile Summit at eTail West this year and to host the roundtable on proximity marketing tactics. Thanks to all the attendees and hope to see you again next year!

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