How Retailers Running Beacon Campaigns Fared This Holiday Season

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Retail sales were a mixed bag for brick-and-mortar stores this holiday season, with some categories — like electronics and home furnishings—faring better than others. As large retail chains start unpacking the effectiveness of their digital marketing efforts, mobile presence management vendor Swirl is releasing the results of its own beacon marketing campaigns run during the holiday shopping season.

Swirl’s mobile presence platform leverages location signals to drive personalized marketing for retailers and brands, relying on Bluetooth beacons to connect with opted-in consumers. To better understand how beacons influenced holiday sales at the national retailers it works with, Swirl analyzed campaign data from more than one million in-store and near-store beacon interactions, which took place at “thousands” of store locations, in November and December 2016. The company then compared the real world behaviors of people who received beacon-triggered messages with the benchmark behaviors of people who did not receive messaging in-store.

The positive gains that Swirl uncovered shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following the beacon marketing industry over the past few years. One specialty retailer Swirl tracked saw a 41% increase in average basket size and a 36% increase in its mall-to-store traffic conversion rate, while a different specialty apparel retailer saw a 13% increase in its mall-to-store traffic conversion rate. Swirl also saw a “significant jump” in beacon usage this holiday season, driven by larger-scale location signal networks — enabled by Bluetooth signals that were integrated into existing enterprise hardware — and larger-scale mobile audience reach.

“Beacon deployments and beacon marketing campaigns have been growing steadily for the past few years as retailers sought to understand the technology and its applications,” says Rebecca Schuette, director of marketing at Swirl. “We expect this trend to continue as retailers expand their efforts to more public rollouts in 2017.”

Schuette also credits the increased audience reach enabled by Google’s Nearby Notifications as one of the reasons why beacon campaigns have been growing steadily over the past year.

Given the challenges that department stores like Macy’s have faced in recent months, it’s particularly interesting that Swirl’s own campaign data tracked a 10% to 17% increase in traffic flow to targeted departments with its beacon campaign at a “leading department store.”

“We’ve seen messages as simple as ‘Don’t forget to stop by Women’s Shoes to take advantage of our big sale going on now,’ have a significant and measurable impact on traffic and sales,” Schuette says.

Swirl’s CEO Hilmi Ozguc sees the in-store beacon ecosystem growing “quietly but steadily” in scale, and says the public can expect to see more rollouts in 2017 as top retailers better understand how beacon programs are impacting in-store traffic patterns.

Although Swirl was specifically tracking holiday sales in the data it released this morning, Schuette emphasizes that beacon marketing programs work best when they are tested and optimized throughout the year. That means testing campaign messages, content, offers, and audience targets during key shopping periods like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, graduation, and around the busy back-to-school shopping period in order to take advantage of the real-time feedback loop.

“As the early adopters take full advantage of their deployed beacon networks and the increased audience reach enabled by Google and others, consumers will soon become accustomed to more personalized mobile interactions while they shop,” she says. “Retailers who aren’t yet fully integrating mobile into their brick and mortar shopping experience risk falling further behind in the rapidly changing retail landscape.”

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.