Friday, January 31, 2014

iBeacons Personalize Super Bowl, Shopping News

I discussed this retail technology in an earlier post and I'd encourage you to read up on it. It is an interesting application of mobile shopping; it also has the potential be an invasion of privacy.

The New York Times reports on its application during the Super Bowl XLVIII weekend. Beacons are located in and around Times Square and in MetLife Stadium, the Super Bowl 2014 venue. The Times says that for the information being provided is mostly utilitarian. Can it tell you where is the nearest bathroom, for example? It also has the ability to deliver ads or to tell you where you can purchase an item of merchandise.

The technology for the Super Bowl is running on the NFL app. Apple has been aggressive in rolling out the iBeacon transmitters, but Android users can be targeted also. Many retail stores have installed or are testing it--see the earlier post. The roll-out is already underway to MLB stadiums; expect most of them to have it by the time the season starts.

According to the Times, Robert Bowman, president and chief executive of MLB Advanced Media, the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, said stadiums were becoming “crucibles for technology.” But he said there was a bold line between gentle marketing pitches and obnoxious upselling.

Amen to that! Clearly a technology to be watched--for good or for mischief!

In-Store Customer Tracking - Innovation or Invasion?

How retailers can best compete in a digital world is a vexing subject. Recent news items on stores like Home Depot and Nordstrom using customer tracking technology in their stores caught my attention. Depending on your point of view, this is either another useful manifestation of big data or a big invasion of privacy!

The technology goes by various names—hyperlocal, in-store tracking and in-store positioning are common descriptors.  Geofencing is a related retail tool that performs slightly different locational functions by indicating when a person enters a specified area. In-store tracking allows stores or malls to monitor your movements while you are on the premises, producing Google Analytics-type metrics like which departments in a store people visit and how long they stay in each. A heatmap from one of the technology providers, YFind, shows a mall application—visitors and unique visitors to specific stores and “dwell time” for each visit. 

Yfind heat map
How Euclid technology works

Euclid is the technology used by Home Depot and Nordstrom, although Nordstrom describes its use as “a test” that provided useful data but has now ended. The chart shows how their technology works and most of it is straightforward. A shopper enters the store, her smartphone automatically pings looking for wifi, the system captures the phone’s MAC address to identify the shopper, then uses it to send repeated pings to the cloud as the shopper moves around the store. MAC address is the thing I had to look up; it’s the ID permanently burned into every device that can connect to the network.
The fact that all of this is done without active participation by the shopper, in fact without the shopper’s knowledge, is what bothers privacy advocates. The systems suppliers insist they only collect and provide anonymous data to their customers. You be the judge.

Recently Ad Age interviewed Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare. The video contains interesting speculation on “reinventing retail” including the prediction that users could soon be automatically checked in when they enter a store. I wonder if users will be comfortable with that, but the video is worth watching.  

If you want to up the creepiness factor, consider the possibility of providing leads to retailers as consumers enter the store. According to Media Post, a start-up called Purple Cloud monitors consumer activity with regard to a  ”specific product on a Web site, which triggers an email to the retailer and a photo of the consumer taken from their social network profile.” The retailer can then send a tweet or email to the prospective customer, presumably as he enters the store. On the face of it, that is seriously creepy. However, the customer must download the Purple Cloud app to make this all work, so that may be a mitigating factor. Watch for more on this emerging technology.

For sure, we are going to see more changes in the in-store shopping experience! Whether they will result in genuine privacy problems remains to be seen.

First published on May 23, 2013.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow in Atlanta—on Facebook and Twitter

It’s late morning on Thursday, January 30—two days after the paralyzing snow storm in the South. Atlanta, of course, is the poster child. I’ve been looking around, and there is plenty of both good and bad social media to go around.

First on the “good list” has to be the SnowedInAtlanta Facebook page. It was started by an experienced Facebook user, Michelle Sollicito who lives in Marietta, GA. Looking at her page, it looks like she started it about 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday.  As I write this Thursday morning the page has over 55 thousand followers.

At this moment it is still quite active, much of it with people inquiring about road conditions. Over the past 2 days it has been filled with requests for information and help but also with people offering to help people stranded in nearby areas, people who have welcomed children home or found missing relatives, even a lost cat who wandered into someone’s home. 

Notice that Michelle has pinned today’s emergency management report to the top of the page. If you read further you find that the page has spawned a large number of neighborhood-specific pages to systematize the process of getting the right type of help to the people who need it. Also note the petition (on the White House site) to honor Michelle for her unstinting effort over the last almost-48 hours.

There is also “plenty of blame to go around” on social media. Can we have civility—not northerners goading southerners for not being able to handle the rare ice or snow storm? And government officials like Mayor Reed certainly should not respond to uncivil and ill-informed posts from outside his city/state.

Mayor Reed @KasimReed may never recover from his post on Monday that says that Atlanta is ready for the snow storm. Both government officials and corporate execs take note! His tweets have changed their tone in the past two days—some informative, more retweeting information from state and local agencies. He (or more probably his staff) have also been careful to retweet items (from political followers?) who are reporting what great shape some parts of the city are in!

Governor Deal @GovernorDeal doesn’t score any higher on my “good use of twitter” scale. He will have a hard time living down the tweet at 3:05 p.m. on January 28 touting his introduction of Mayor Reed as he won the Georgian of the Year award. The next tweet was the twitter page announcement of the emergency declaration at 7:42 p.m. that evening.  Beginning on January 29 there are an uncountable number of retweets mostly from the Georgia DOT and the 511 reporting line. Those are useful information, but putting all them on the governor’s page makes it hard to find anything of value.  Michelle’s solution of links to area-specific information makes a lot more sense (quel surprise!!!).

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to citizens like Michelle, especially those who jump in to provide important services when our government fails us.

Politicians should train their staffs in the effective use of social platforms. It might also be wise to train them in what improves the politician’s brand image and what makes them look venal and self-serving.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vine Videos Promote Animal Adoptions

First published on February 24, 2013.

On January 24 [2013] Twitter launched Vine, a platform for 6 second looping videos. Right now they are mobile-only. The free app can be downloaded at the App Store.

The New York Humane Society was one of the first users. They tweeted a video of Parker the cat.

The good news is that Parker found a home as a direct result of the video. NYHS was smart enough to tweet again, the image I captured, announcing that Parker had found his new home.

Good job!

The Humane Society of New York continues to use Vine to promote adoptions and to support their fundraising.