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Target Rolls Out Beacons At 50 Stores — With Bigger Plans To Come

The Bluetooth connection is only available on Apple’s iBeacon platform, but the retail chain is already working on app-based in-store sales assistance.

Target  is installing beacons at 50 stores across the country as part of the department store chain’s continuing effort to realize an omnichannel strategy that will balance its online and offline presence in shoppers’ minds — and on their smartphones.

Target's Jason Goldberger
Target’s Jason Goldberger

Outlets in Chicago, Denver, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and its hometown of Minneapolis will be the first to install the Bluetooth-powered devices. The company didn’t reveal which beacon platform would be handling the installation and software management of the program.

“We’re excited to start using beacon technology to offer real-time, relevant content and services that can help make shopping at Target easier and more fun,” said Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and Mobile, in a statement. “This is another way Target is bridging mobile and stores, and using digital to enhance the in-store shopping experience. We look forward to seeing how our guests respond to what we’ve built.”

Target is so confident that users of its branded iPhone app will opt-in to share their location to receive push notifications, it’s promising to quickly introduce beacon compatibility to Google Android devices as well as to expand beacons to all its 1,800 US stores.

“With a majority of top retailers actively exploring beacons, Target’s public announcement is yet another indication that the beacon industry is heating up,” said Rebecca Schuette, marketing director for beacon marketing platform, Swirl. “Many more retailers are privately running pilot tests and building out beacon networks, so as we approach the back-to-school and holiday seasons expect to see more announcements like this from other major retailers.”

Omnichannel Time

The company’s foray into beacons comes almost a year after  Macy’s activated Shopkick’s beacons in 4,000 of its stores last September and Lord & Taylor put Swirl’s beacons in all its stores ahead of Black Friday 2014.

The timing of Target’s decision appears to have more to do with its own refocusing of its digital marketing programs. This past March, Target’s CEO Brian Cornell outlined five key areas that the department store plans to invest in as part of a larger revamping of its interactive approach.

“First, we will be a leader in providing the guest the ability to shop anywhere and anytime they want, in stores, online, and with their mobile devices,” Cornell told analysts at an investor conference in March.

Since then, Target has adopted Apple Pay, express checkout via mobile app, aisle navigation using LED-to-smartphone lighting signals, and digital-to-physical pickup, and the company has released a video designed to inform shoppers about all the options now available to them.

More recently, the Big Box chain has used one of its San Francisco stores as a showcase for its interactive ideas on how retail and the Internet of Things mix.

Target's app in action
Target’s app in action

Choosing this moment for Target’s beacon roll out not only seems like a smart progression of the digital marketing steps its taken this past year, it also comes as beacons continue to gain acceptance in the marketplace. For example, it was barely a month ago that Google released its fuller challenge to Apple’s iBeacon with its Eddystone platform.

While other retailers have had to develop beacon strategies on the fly, Target appears to have been taking notes from other retailers’ experiences. For instance, it makes a point of saying that the Target app will limit the amount of notifications a device receives to two messages per shopping trip. “And we’ll make sure the alerts and in-app updates provide compelling content and offers,” the company said in its news release.

It should be noted that Target is no latecomer to app-based in-store commerce. About three years ago, it began using Shopkick’s rewards app at all locations, which allowed consumers to scan products in Target’s aisles for redeeming discounts known as “kicks” from Target gift cards, Facebook credits, dining gift certificates, iTunes downloads, donations to charities, and other sites.

Red-and-Khaki to the Rescue

With that experience embedded in Target’s interactive undertakings, the retailer is offering clear advice as to how its customers will like engage with its beacon program.

“What does this look like? Let’s say you’re browsing women’s apparel. You might get an alert about nearby items that are trending on Pinterest. As you move over to get your groceries, and you may see the “Target Run” page updated with a department-wide offer or a Cartwheel deal for items like Archer Farms Organic milk or Market Pantry cheese.”

In addition to a wider rollout, Target is already working on adding additional features to its beacon effort. The ability to dynamically re-sort a shopping list as a customer moves through the store — “like how smartphone maps re-route when you veer off course” Target said — is coming soon.

“We’re also planning to launch a service in the Target app where you can request the help of a store team member right from your phone,” Target added. “Think of it this way: Beacons + Target app = Red-and-Khaki to the Rescue.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.