Swirl Looks to Close the Digital Divide Between E-Commerce and Physical Stores

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Brick-and-mortar retailers are feeling the pinch as consumers shift more of their spending to online channels. As e-commerce outlets celebrate the Census Bureau’s recent retail sales report, showing a 15% jump in online sales in the first quarter, brands with physical locations are stuck in the awkward position of trying to get shoppers off their computers and into their stores.

Pushing back against a shifting tide and changing consumer behavior won’t be easy, but executives at in-store digital marketing technology provider Swirl believe they can change the way consumers shop. They say the key will be arming physical retailers with the same datasets as e-commerce giants. The company recently released a “Mobile Presence Management and Marketing Platform,” which allows physical retailers to leverage first-party shopper behavioral data based on location signals.

These location signals — collected through GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth beacons — are a key feature in Swirl’s new platform, and they help to differentiate it from competing retail data and marketing vendors. They offer insight into an individual consumer’s physical world and shopping behaviors, and they create a path for retailers to deliver a much more personalized in-store shopping experience.

“In many ways, this capability is a throwback to the days when the local shopkeeper knew everything about their patrons,” says Hilmi Ozguc, Swirl’s founder and CEO. “The advantage retailers have today is that they can use technology to power the same level of personalized service — with the consumer’s permission, of course — on a much larger scale, both within the store and in subsequent online interactions.”

Swirl’s new platform includes two core components: infrastructure management software, which retailers can use to deploy, manage, and control digital location signals in and around their stores, and a mobile presence marketing cloud, which includes a collection of specialized modules that allow retailers to act on the customer behavioral data they collect. In real world terms, Swirl’s new capabilities could be used to power digital shopping assistants inside mobile apps, personalized offers, or streamlined store pick-ups. The data could also be used to help sales associates give better product recommendations based on a customer’s previous purchases.

The demand for integrating data-driven personalization capabilities into physical stores is on the rise, with brands like True Religion using technology from Aptos and Formula3 Group to offer real-time access to customer profiles and purchasing histories. While retailers like Urban Outfitters, Lord & Taylor, and Timberland have been using Swirl’s in-store mobile marketing tools for years, the company is just beginning to roll out its newest platform. Ozguc says he expects Swirl’s existing partners to begin using the Mobile Presence Management and Marketing Platform over the coming weeks.

In a recent survey by Gartner and RIS News, 51% of retailers listed “developing personalized marketing capabilities” as a strategy they will be working on in the next 18 months. Unsurprisingly, 21% of retailers in the survey said Amazon and other e-commerce competitors were one of the “top challenges for the next three years.”

E-commerce has benefited from massive sets of behavioral data, which companies like Amazon can collect from every website visit. As the market for mobile presence management and personalization continues to grow, and more platforms like Swirl’s are introduced into the marketplace, traditional retailers will be better equipped to capture similar data on individual customers based not only on their in-store purchasing habits, but also on location signals and mobile browsing behaviors.

“For years, e-commerce-focused businesses have leveraged their digital assets and capabilities to deliver personalized online experiences based on data collected from every website visit, click and purchase,” Ozguc says. “With this new technology, brick and mortar locations can be transformed into a powerful strategic digital marketing asset for retailers.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.


Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.