Target tests beacons in 50 stores, plans nationwide expansion

The retailer will use the small Bluetooth transmitters to send content and offers to a shopper's smartphone based on their specific location and behavior within a store.

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Target announced Wednesday that it is testing beacon technology in 50 store locations nationwide.

The Minneapolis-based retailer will use the small Bluetooth transmitters to send targeted content and offers to a shopper's smartphone based on their specific location and behavior within a store.

The initial deployment is limited in several ways. In terms of locations, Target is only testing the beacons in Chicago, Denver, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis.

In terms of devices, the beacons are only compatible with users who have the latest version of the Target iPhone app installed on their phone (Android support is supposedly in the works). Then, users must opt in for location-based advertising and have Bluetooth turned on. What's more, Target says it will limit pop-up notifications to just two per shopping trip, so as not to overwhelm and annoy its customers.

The recommendations, meanwhile, could appear via push notifications or in-app updates on the Target app's "Target Run" home page, which is similar to a social media site's newsfeed, with the latest content and product recommendations appearing on top of the page.

Target says it hopes to use feedback from the 50-store deployment to "enhance and adapt" the service before it expands to more devices and store locations. The retailer says it's already developing additional uses for the beacons, including the ability to dynamically re-sort a shopping list as a customer moves through the store, similar to how a maps app re-routes drivers when they change course.

The beacons will also be useful in generating data that helps Target map out how customers move through stores. Target could use the data to determine if more staff is required in certain departments, or if there are friction points in certain areas.

According to Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and Mobile, the beacons are "another way Target is bridging mobile and stores, and using digital to enhance the in-store shopping experience."

In other words, Target is trying its hand at a technology that is becoming a key component to the omnichannel strategy of many retailers. A number of businesses have tested and rolled out beacon technology over the last several years. For example, Macy's last September rolled out what was at the time the largest beacon deployment in retail, with more than 4,000 devices installed across its department stores nationwide.

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