July 30, 2014, 4:50 PM

Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay give mobile beacons a big boost

HBC Department Store Group, which owns the two retail brands, has announced it will outfit more than 130 stores with Swirl’s beacon technology, which sends location-aware message to customers’ smartphones. HBC is one of the biggest retailers to launch the newer technology.

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The beacons have landed.

At more than 130 Hudson's Bay and Lord & Taylor department stores across North America and Canada. HBC Department Store Group, which owns the two retail chains, has announced it is partnering with Swirl, a beacon technology provider, to outfit its stores with beacons in one of the largest retail beacon rollouts yet. Swirl already works with such retail clients as Timberland, Kenneth Cole, and Alex and Ani.

Beacons are small pieces of hardware retailers can place just about anywhere that pinpoint the location of a consumer’s smartphone inside a physical store via Bluetooth Low Energy wireless networking technology. That allows a retailer to send mobile offers and provide information based on the shopper’s location. For example, a retailer could send a link to nail polish reviews to a shopper standing in front of a nail polish display.

At Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay, beacons will be used to trigger content to shoppers at multiple locations and departments within the stores, HBC says.

“We recognize the appetite for mobile experiences that cater to our customers’ immediate needs and preferences while also providing a seamless and effortless experience,” says Michael Crotty, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Hudson’s Bay Company. “Beacon technology is the future of retail marketing and Swirl’s platform will assist us to make every visit to Hudson’s Bay or Lord & Taylor even more rewarding for our customers.”

In order to prepare for such large-scale rollouts, Swirl announced a partnership earlier this month with Motorola Solutions Inc. As part of the partnership, Swirl opened up its marketing platform to recognize the beacons manufactured by Motorola, while Motorola’s platform now recognizes Swirl beacons. The communication between platforms and beacons is done with Bluetooth technology. This is the first rollout following that announcement.

“With this new capability, Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor are taking their reputation for quality and customer service to the next level,” says Hilmi Ozguc, founder and CEO of Swirl. “We are proud to be working with one of North America’s premier retailers to reinvent the in-store shopping experience with the latest mobile marketing technology. This multi-category, multi-floor beacon deployment represents the most ambitious application of beacon marketing in the retail industry to date.”  

In May, Duane Reade, a chain of drugstores owned by Walgreens, rolled out an in-store tracking program to 10 Manhattan locations.

The key to beacons is Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE. Bluetooth enables devices of any sort, from smartphones to stereo components, to communicate wirelessly at a close range. A retailer plugs beacons, small wireless sensors, into wall outlets around a store; the beacons facilitate Bluetooth communication between a mobile commerce or marketing system and smartphones.

BLE enables mobile devices to operate with Bluetooth networking always turned on without the technology consuming a lot of power from the battery. Of special note is the fact that Beacons can function without a connection to a cellular phone network, as all the data transfer happens via BLE.

Bluetooth typically is off by default on most smartphones and tablets, in part because it consumes so much power. However, BLE can be found on iPhones (on the iPhone 4s and above) and many Android smartphones. Consumers can leave it on all the time so it can detect such things as beacons and whatever new services and offers developers and retailers dream up. Consumers are prompted by their mobile operating systems to select whether they want to turn beacons on.

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