Startup brings beacon devices to small retailers

Swarm Mobile uses Apple's iBeacon messaging approach to help boutiques and stores measure foot traffic against actual transactions.

Many of the retail marketing and analytics experiments I've read about centered on devices that use Apple's iBeacon messaging protocol involved larger stadiums or national retail chains, but two-year-old Swarm is now focusing one of its products squarely on small retailers. 

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The offering, the Swarm Portal foot traffic counter, is an $80 sensor that counts each visitor that enters a store and then reports that information to the owner or manager via a mobile app.

(Currently, the app, shown farther down in this post, is only available on Apple iOS.)

The device is battery-powered and easy to install: it has a peel-and-stick backing, so you can put it pretty much anywhere it makes sense. If the battery is low, it glows a different color as a warning.

The technology can do much more than just monitor traffic trends, however. By integrating the Swarm information with point of sale (POS) data, a retailer can get a better handle on conversion rates, which can help for all manner of management tasks including inventory, staffing and in-store marketing activities. There's even a feature for tracking overall revenue goals more closely.

The company's technology works with at least 15 of the most commonly used POS systems among smaller retailers including Vend, Revel Systems and LightSpeed. And, yes, there's also integration with QuickBooks.

Swarm app

"Small businesses, which represent 94 percent of retail establishments in the United States, struggle to compete with big-box stores and e-commerce companies everyday," said Rudd Davis, co-founder and CEO of Swarm (and a former digital marketing executive for USA Today, in a statement. "Most store owners don't know how many people walked through their doors in a given day, let along what percentage of them actually made a purchase."

All that functionality does come at an extra per month, per store price ranging from $39.99 to $79.99. There is a volume discount available for retailers that have more than five locations to manage. 

Considering the infancy of this market, Swarm has a very respectable following: it has already sold more than 30,000 smart beacon devices into retail locations around the world.

It apparently got the idea to focus on smaller retailers based on the experiences of the founder's partners, store owners in Vermont. So far, the San Francisco-based company has raised $4.5 million in funding.