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Attention Shoppers, Blue Light Specials, and Big Data

Remember the days when you’d hear that on the in-stores announcement? “Attention Shoppers! For the next hour K-Mart is now offering a blue light special – half off all summer beach wear.” Those announcement where a form of on-site marketing offers made only to the stores patrons shopping at the time. The offers were made to everyone in the store at the time regardless of whether you were there to purchase Beach wear or not.

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Today in-store analytics, mobile technology, and social media are taking the idea of the Blue light special to new levels, and in the process causing some privacy concerns. The proliferation of mobile, RFID, and analytical tools are giving retailers the ability to identify when patrons enter, where they go inside, and see what they are searching for or taking to the changing room for example. Companies like Lowe’s are allowing customers to interact with their purchasing history via portals such “MyLowe’s”, others like Nordstrom’s are using these technologies with even greater innovation, by tracking where and when customers move inside their stores and sending them targeted offers via the customers mobile device. Think of it as a Blue light special just for you, based on your previous purchasing history and privacy preferences. All sorts of retailers — including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker — are testing these technologies and using them to decide on matters like changing store layouts and offering customized coupons.

As competitive pressures rise and profit margins narrow in retail, we’ll see more companies looking for ways to increase consumer brand loyalty, and looking to get the most revenue possible from every store visit a patron makes. Online retailers are already using these solutions. Now brick-and-mortar are learning from the Amazon’s of the world and seeing just how far they can go. The following video from a recent New York Times article is a great overview of where the industry is going and the challenges they’ll face with consumers along the way.

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