In the early-90s, I toured Arthur Andersen’s Smart Store 2000. Remember that place? It was an R&D wonder, located in a warehouse just outside of Chicago, where new technologies were tested that would revolutionize the grocery and, eventually, retail shopping experience.
It was this groundbreaking concept where as you walked through the store, it would know where you are and would automatically promote relevant products to you. It enabled automated checkout stations that captured your personal information (in a way that we now call “profiling,” but it was the start of data capture anyway).
Yep, greenhorn marketers will be shocked to know this concept of location and push notifications was alive and well before they were born.
Fast forward a few decade and you have things like Google’s auto-fill, Apple’s iBeacon, and Foursquare. Recommendation engines are everywhere, and everyone is trying to turn on locations – naturally, to geo-target the ads we’re exposed to. All in the name of customizing the customer experience, right? But does it even matter?
It seems everywhere I turn these days a new app or mobile website is asking to turn on my location. And while I appreciate what better ads I could get on that national magazine website, and I appreciate the added promise of a better experience, it does beg the question from me—who cares? Why should I, really?
A recent Forbes article captured the marketing implications best, noting “A plausible reason why Apple may be turning on Bluetooth is to bolster the use of iBeacon, a new technology from the smartphone giant that turns your phone into a homing beacon, helping retailers sense and communicate with phone-toting consumers in their vicinity.” So location-obsessed marketers are salivating over this data mine that seems to have struck gold. But, as my trip down Memory Lane to the Smart Store 2000 represents, this isn’t news.
On the one hand, while everything is optimized for mobile so we can get recommendations based on our actual location, people are still primarily in our dog bone, or the general area that we usually travel. Sure, we’re mobile, but we’re also creatures of habit, frequently traveling through a predictable set of location points.
On the other hand, we shop nationally. Think Amazon, eBay, and basically any internet-based shopping experience you can think of. Consider all of the national entities that are dumping millions of dollars into their delivery technology. ESPN rolled out local hubs, Wicked Local in Boston, Voice Media Group’s “local” alternative newsweeklies, the list goes on.
Marketers are allocating a lot of resources to support locational accuracy. But ultimately, in a world where mobile is the new local, aren’t timing, relevant offers and customer service more important?