Friday, January 17, 2014

Customer Loyalty, Location Tracking, Big Data and iBeacons

A lot of technology has recently entered the world of retail analytics. Some of it leverages Wi-Fi, some Bluetooth, some audio, but all of it is competing for your customer loyalty (Big Data). The crux of it all is an attempt by the retailer to engage with you, the customer by giving you coupons/discounts in trade for your demographic data or because you completed a task.

Gigwalk connects people/companies who need workers to fulfill temporary workload. Users of Gigwalk can agree to fulfill a requested task/service and receive payment via PayPal. You can think of it as a way for an employer to hire a temp worker without ever performing an interview. Gigwalk is an interesting way to connect employers with employees to complete piecemeal work. It reminds me a little of TaskRabbit but less errand/chore based and more task completion.

Checkpoints awards you points for completing surveys, watching videos, shopping online etc. Checkpoint is aligned with manufacturers instead of retailers. inMarket operates the largest mobile shopper platform and the underlying technology used is the iBeacon platform. 

iBeacons leverage Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to create a location-aware, context-aware wireless network within a retail establishment. The proximity information can be used to send targeted marketing to nearby smart phones to encourage purchases or to award users of the app with points for scanning product barcodes into the app.

Shopkick awards you points ("kicks") for visiting stores, scanning products or making purchases from retailers in the Shopkick network (Sports Authority, Macy's). The "kicks" can be accrued and turned into gift cards, free coffee awards or other prizes. The odd thing I read about Shopkick is that the app asks for permission to use the microphone on your smartphone. This is because the app listens for a specific frequency/sound pattern being transmitted from the Shopkick beacon installed in the store. The app also has the potential to record the audio during a TV broadcast if that is part of an opportunity to earn kicks. This is outlined the Shopkick privacy policy, but I doubt many Shopkick users will actually read this or the app EULA.
"record, determine or use information about or from another content delivery platform (for example, to unlock potential rewards or offers based on your watching of a specific a commercial or show that is broadcast on your television or on the web, the shopkick application may ask you to open the app while you are watching TV, and then we may record or analyze the audio signal from the television set via the shopkick app and your cell phone’s microphone, to determine the commercial, and/or program, including the date and/or time), and (v) record information derived from such above information and other sources such as entries and offers viewed on our website or on our social media presence, or information provided by Affiliated Partners (collectively, “Non-Personally Identifiable Information”)."
Stepsaway is another shopping app that detects customers' smart phones when they are near stores in shopping centers or other public spaces. Stepsaway allows retailers to use a cloud managed platform to push notifications to customers within range of their stores.

It is abundantly clear that the customer is actually the product. Brick and mortar stores are competing with one another for the attention (and wallet) of the consumer. Retailers are willing to offer exclusive discounts to customers to win/retain customer loyalty. What you're trading for those discounts is more than just the space the app takes up on your phone. You're often asked to trade your phone contacts, access to your photos, microphone and location in trade for access to the perceived benefits of the rewards network (via the app).

I'm not the target audience for customer loyalty/shopping apps, but the things I've been reading started me thinking about privacy issues, potential legal issues and how to avoid inadvertently contributing to the demographic database pool.

The fact that the iBeacon technology is Bluetooth with a different name leads me to wonder about how much interference iBeacons add to the 2.4GHz spectrum. How does a wireless infrastructure differentiate between an iBeacon and a Bluetooth source of interference?

Wireless technology is evolving quickly in many disparate ways. It's unclear how iBeacons will be used outside of the retail vertical, or when an active/passive RFID implementation would be preferential over Bluetooth. It's an exciting time in the world of wireless! Some of it makes me a little leery, but I'm hopeful for the possibilities of a more connected world.


  1. As tech-immersed as I am, I still want nothing to do with any of this slick stuff when I shop. I don't want to tracked, upsold, marketed to, or part of the "experience" that is the connected retail world. Does that make me a bad person?

  2. yes, shopkick banned me saying I broke rule #3...there is no rule #3..saying I scanned outside the store...I didnt..there is a website, that upload barcodes so users dont have to go to the store...and by comments its clear people don't...are these people this site illegal or they have my information about breaking rule #3??? I guess its a legal site..but users who use it get banned for using it...go figure!!