A few years ago, beacons—Bluetooth-powered devices that push messages to smartphones—were the next big thing for retail marketers and stores. They promised to connect with consumers while they were in front of products, gathering data and enhancing the shopping experience with special discounts and information.
But while retailers and marketers alike were excited by the thought of beacons and their opportunity, actual usage of them fell flat for a few reasons:
Retailers want control over their store environment.
Product locations in the store may change often, but beacons are not equipped with the flexibility to move with them.
Consumer experience needs to come first and foremost.
Retailers “don’t want every brand they carry shouting at customers as they walk down aisles,” as the beacons vie to connect with the shopper.
High barriers to entry make usage more difficult.
For beacons to work, consumers must have an app open on their phone in order to receive brand messages—and consumers are increasingly picky about which apps they download.
But another option that could outshine beacons is making its way to the shelf:
Scannable Shelf Tags
Scannable shelf tags—or tags equipped with near-field communication (NFC) chips that are accessible to most smartphones— alleviate the problems beacons pose, providing in-store interactions with customers brands desire while leaving it up to the customer to choose when they hear from brands.
These tags work in the background, allowing customers to shop unsolicited until they choose to engage with the tag. Plus, NFC-chips in the tags can trigger messages on phones without Bluetooth being on, lowering the barrier to entry. Another benefit? This technology will give consumers the same level of customization that they receive online, potentially reducing the lead online shopping has on brick-and-mortar store sales.
While NFC-enabled shelf tags aren’t in use in the real-world yet, you can see the benefits in action in the grocery chain Kroger’s new technology called Edge that features NFC, along with other NFC-like technology.
Edge allows Kroger to quickly and accurately set prices, activate immediate promotions and price changes, offer sales to customers as they pass if they’ve indicated they’re interested in a certain product, display dynamic advertising, share important information about nutrition and allergies, and help store employees manage inventory.
Beacons and NFC-enabled shelf tags serve the same purpose, but NFC tags are more user-friendly and come at a lower cost than beacons—so expect to see them soon in stores near you.