Will the ‘Physical Web’ Help Retailers Reduce Annoying Ads?

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Since its introduction into the retail world back in 2013, beacon technology has helped brick-and-mortar stores compete in a consumer climate that’s leaning overwhelmingly toward digital. At least, that was the intention But there have been some drawbacks to beacons, enough so that many franchise businesses have shied away from implementing them as an engagement tool.

One of the biggest drawbacks of beacons is the irrelevancy of the messaging that’s sent out to potential customers. Just because a customer walks by your store — or even in it — doesn’t mean they’ll respond to your notification.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen some inventive ways in which brands have used beacon technology to their benefit.

The Golden State Warriors, for example, are known to send offers to fans in the nosebleed section of Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA to pay the face-value difference for an upgrade to better seats. Not only is this an upsell for the team, but it also comes as a welcome surprise to the fans.

But all too often I cringe at the way brands use beacons to disrupt and annoy their customers and prospects.

That’s why I’m excited about Google’s physical web initiative. While still in its infancy, and not yet realized, the physical web will prove to be an asset to franchisees looking to connect, and engage with, potential customers from their surrounding neighborhood ­– without barraging them with untimely and irrelevant messaging.

In fact, while beacon technology has helped many brands deliver personalized experiences to their existing customers (the nosebleed section fans, for example, are already at the basketball game!) I think the personalized web will help franchises reel in passing traffic in a way current beacon technology fails to do.

Handing the keys to the consumer
With the physical web, any beacon that supports the Eddystone protocol specification can broadcast a URL. Browsers (like Google Chrome) can scan for, and display, these URLs onto your device.

This means potential customers walking down the street can see web pages associated with the space around them, and choose which pages they deem as most interesting and relevant.

The keyword here is choose. Rather than be interrupted by unsolicited notifications, pedestrians and folks driving by will decide whether they want to scan their surround space for messages delivered by nearby stores and brands.

In other words, by the time they turn to the physical web, they’ve moved into a highly motivated stage in the purchase cycle: they’re ready to search their immediate surroundings and be wooed by brands’ offers and promises.

While existing beacon technology has proven to be an effective way to surprise and delight existing customers, the physical web will improve your chances of bringing outside traffic in your front door.

The parking factor: An effective use of the physical web
I’ve seen instances where stores use beacons to pay for customers’ parking. For example, businesses can send messages to customers when their parking meter is low, and offer to replenish the meter on their behalf.

That’s great for customers already in your store. But let’s take that idea one step further to attract prospects by tapping into their state of mind.

Let’s assume you have a franchise store located in a densely populated shopping district where parking is scarce and/or costly. You have a beacon that transmits signal far enough to reach cars driving by, and promotes a specific URL – thanks to the physical web.

A driver (or his passenger) who’s stuck at a light or in traffic might access the physical web, where he finds a list of URLs from nearby stores. Your URL just so happens to lead to a landing page with an offer for “free parking validation (with any purchase of $10 or more)” for the typically expensive lot next to your store.

You’ve just capitalized on a prospect’s pain point (can’t find affordable, stress-free parking), personalized your interaction with that prospect, and made it so they have to make a purchase in order to reap the rewards of your offer.

Stealing away customers from competitors
While not every brick-and-mortar business has direct competition within their immediate area, the nature of capitalism – and zoning – makes this a likely occurrence. Restaurants tend to sit side-by-side, for example. Competing retailers are rarely far from one another.

This is a perfect opportunity to use the physical web to steal customers from your competitors.

Let’s say you own a Mexican restaurant, for example, and next to you is an Italian restaurant. A prospect pulls into the shared parking lot, with the intention of going to your competitor for dinner. But, by habit, he checks the physical web with one tap of his smartphone. Here’s where you win that prospect over.

The URL you display on the physical web can direct the prospect to a landing page with a special, limited-time offer. You might even take a jab at your competitors’ pricing:

Why pay $30 for one pasta dish when you can feed your whole family for the same price? Dine with us now and enjoy 25% off your entire meal! That prospect might have been in the mood for Chicken Parmigiana, but nothing tastes better than 25% off.

Leverage the natural curiosity of your hyperlocal customers
Hyperlocal customers are quite literally on the hunt, even if they don’t realize it. The moment they step outside their doors and hit the streets, they become active consumers.

But that doesn’t mean they want to be bombarded with over-the-top and untimely ads or notifications. With the physical web, franchise business owners can finally target consumers on a hyperlocal level without coming across as pushy or, dare I say, salesy.

alex-membrillo-head-shotAlex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal Web Solutions, a digital marketing agency based in Atlanta Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Membrillo.