Ready for Black Friday: Study Shows Americans Aware of In-Store Beacons

November 24, 2014  - By
Image: GPS World

A new Placecast poll indicates that nearly 118 million smartphone owners will be relying on their phones for holiday shopping this year. For smartphone owners who plan to do holiday shopping, three out of four will use their phones to find sales, comparison shop, take pictures of possible gifts, and make purchases.

The survey also showed that American shoppers are very aware of in-store beacons, despite the fact that it is a relatively new technology; more than half (52 percent) of the cell phone/smartphone owners surveyed said they have heard of in-store beacons, and 15 percent have engaged with them.

“Brands that embrace beacons are highly likely to see a spike in their sales in the coming shopping season and in general,” said Placecast CEO Alistair Goodman.

Beacon technology is only one indoor location technology being pursued by retailers. Kevin Dennehy’s Wireless LBS Insider column from August, Indoor Location Has Major Growing Pains, but Big Upside, provides an overview.

Conducted in October among more than 2,000 U.S. adults, this was the fifth survey in Placecast’s Alert Shopper series, one of the longest running research series around how consumers interact with various marketing and purchasing mechanisms. This year’s poll reveals the latest trends in mobile shopping and provides key insights for brands and technology providers on how to connect with the highly connected consumer this holiday season, when stakes are high. The poll was conducted online within the U.S. for Placecast by Harris Poll.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), holiday spending will be up nearly 5 percent this year compared to last year, with the average person expected to spend about $800. The NRF reports that gift givers “plan to splurge” for holidays like Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukah: “Consumers are spending more across the board on family, friends, co-workers, pets and even babysitters…Sales and discounts were listed as the most important factor.”

“It’s not surprising that consumers are most influenced by sales and discounts; the question is, what is the best way to get these offers to them? Our survey looked at various ways brand can reach customers, and we found that reaching users on mobile while they are near stores, and using in-store technology — like beacons — are some of the best ways of reaching consumers who are looking for offers, or for more information to make a purchase,” said Goodman.

Beacons are a small, low-cost piece of hardware installed in stores. They emit a signal (called Bluetooth low energy, or BLE) that can be targeted directly to phones. Beacons can bring the analytics and targeting capabilities of the online experience to physical stores — for example, sending a discount for perfume to a 40-year-old woman who has recently done an online search for scents.

Because beacon technology is relatively new, the high awareness level discovered in this wave of the Alert Shopper series may seem surprising to the industry; the research team involved in data analysis for the Harris Nielsen poll explains the possible cause: “Consumers are clearly voting in favor of beacons due to stores promoting them and the value they deliver in couponing. While awareness seems high at 52 percent, this may be due to people wanting to identify with the coolness of new technologies, and certainly indicates huge promise for it. Minority Report is looking more and more like a reality than a movie,” said Kathryn Koegel, chief of Insights and Communications Steampunkt Collaborative.

Goodman seconds this “halo effect” of new tech: “There could very well be a huge halo effect here, but nonetheless, one fact remains: we are all now assuming that there is technology in stores that can connect with our phones — whether it’s opening an app or getting a push notification. But the real art lies in delivering timely and useful ads and offers, not overwhelming the consumer, and making sure the promotions are targeted accurately.”

The Alert Shopper V survey revealed that 15 percent of cell phone/smartphone owners had interacted with beacons. “Though this number is likely higher than the actual number of people who have interacted with in-store beacons, the fact that people are highly aware of them and think they interact with them bodes well for the technology,” said Koegel.

The importance of in-store marketing was underscored by another data point from the Placecast survey; the top activity for Mobile Millennial females (women 18-34 who own a smartphone and plan on doing any holiday shopping this year) — when asked what they plan to use their smartphone for while holiday shopping this season — is searching for a coupon for a store they are already in, with over half (52 percent) looking to save money by checking their phones. The same percentage said they would use their smartphone to take a picture of a potential gift to text a friend or family member for their opinion (52 percent).

The Alert Shopper Survey #5 revealed these key takeaways for brands and marketers this holiday season:

  • Phones are an integral part of the shopping process: among those who plan on doing any holiday shopping, 3 out of 4 smartphone owners plan to use their phones for some part of their gift-finding and buying experience.
  • Among all smartphone owners, searching for an item in a search engine to find a local retailer topped the list of mobile actions for holiday shopping this season, with 2 out of 5 (39 percent) saying they plan to use their smartphone for this; sending a picture of a potential gift to a friend or family member at a close second (38 percent), followed by searching for a coupon for the store they’re in (33 percent).
  • Mobile Millennials are the most active mobile shoppers this holiday season: Young men ages 18-34 (91 percent) and women ages 18-34 (85 percent) who own smartphones reported the highest percentages when asked if they plan to use their phones while shopping this holiday season; these Millennials make up about 25 percent of the United States population, outpacing Baby Boomers and Gen X (ages 28-38). Though they have not reached their peak spending potential, Millennials nonetheless control 21 percent of consumer discretionary purchases, which is estimated at over a trillion dollars in direct buying power and a huge influence on purchases by older generations (i.e., parents and grandparents).
  • Moms and dads with children under 18 in their household will be very active on mobile: 86 percent of dads plan to use their smartphones for holiday shopping this year. When asked what they will use their phones for the most popular answer among dads was “use my phone to look for an item in a search engine to find a local retailer.” Over half (54 percent) gave this answer. Three out of four (75 percent) mothers plan on using their smartphones for holiday shopping this year. While men are searching for retail locations, mobile moms selected “take pictures of potential gifts to text and get opinions from friends/family” as the top mobile activity, with nearly half (48 percent) saying they will do this.