Do consumers need, when they go to the grocery store, more help than already is available from print coupons, downloadable coupons, window-poster ads, shelf extender ads, on-the-floor ads (for crying out loud!), and – less often these days – samplers hawking product samples in the deli, meat and produce section?
Retailers (and, bless ‘em!) manufacturers are always seeking to play their part in the ‘wait, there’s more!’ game popularized on late-night TV ads. The latest instore gambit, described in a New York Times article running to nearly 1600 words, is to reach out to unwitting (and even unwilling) shoppers through their smartphones.
Here’s how The Times leads into its article:
Imagine you are shopping in your favorite grocery store. As you approach the dairy aisle, you are sent a push notification in your phone: “10 percent off your favorite yogurt! Click here to redeem your coupon.” You considered buying yogurt on your last trip to the store, but you decided against it. How did your phone know?
Your smartphone was tracking you. The grocery store got your location data and paid a shadowy group of marketers to use that information to target you with ads. Recent reports have noted how companies use data gathered from cell towers, ambient Wi-Fi, and GPS. But the location data industry has a much more precise, and unobtrusive, tool: Bluetooth beacons.
These beacons are small, inobtrusive electronic devices that are hidden throughout the grocery store; an app on your phone that communicates with them informed the company not only that you had entered the building, but that you had lingered for two minutes in front of the low-fat Chobanis.
Bluetooth beacons, the article goes on to say, “are accurate within centimeters, using little energy, functioning like little lighthouses that emit one-way messages that can be detected by apps on your phone – even if the app is closed.
‘Living’ Version of ‘The Stalker Song’: I’ll Be Watching You
All that’s bad enough, if you care a whit about your personal privacy, but The Times goes on to note that:
- If your phone and a nearby beacon hookup, the computer on the other end of the beacon can be told what products you’ve walked by, and how long you’ve lingered in this or that department.
- Foot traffic monitored by the beacon can reveal personal details such as your income and exercise habits; When paired with other information about you, companies can build a rich profile of who you are, where you are, and what you buy — all without your knowledge.
- The app can be prompted to display ads for products you seem likely to buy.
- It can send you a coupon after you leave, urging you to come back — a practice called “retargeting.”
Most people, The Times notes, “aren’t aware they are being watched with beacons, but the “beacosystem” tracks millions of people every day. Beacons are placed at or on airports, malls, subways, buses, taxis. sporting arenas, gyms, hotels, hospitals, music festivals, cinemas and museums, and even on billboards.
The System Works Via A Phone App
In order to track you or trigger an action like a coupon or message to your phone, companies need you to install an app on your phone that will recognize the beacon in the store. Retailers (like Target and Walmart) that use Bluetooth beacons typically build tracking into their own apps. But retailers want to make sure most of their customers can be tracked — not just the ones that download their own particular app.
So a hidden industry of third-party location-marketing firms has proliferated in response. These companies take their beacon tracking code and bundle it into a toolkit developers can use.
The makers of many popular apps, such as those for news or weather updates, insert these toolkits into their apps. They might be paid by the beacon companies or receive other benefits, like detailed reports on their users.
That’s less than half what this article reveals. I urge you to read it to read it here.