It's now possible to go grocery shopping at Walmart without leaving your car.
This week, Walmart started testing a new concept called Walmart Pickup – Grocery, a service that allows customers to order online from a selection of 10,000 grocery and household products and schedule a pickup time for as little as two hours or as far as three weeks in the future. The experiment is taking place at a Walmart warehouse in the northwest Arkansas town of Bentonville, where Walmart is headquartered.
By launching the concept, Walmart joins a long list of grocery services all created with the common goal of basically eliminating the need to “go” grocery shopping by actually strolling through store aisles. We’re talking about online grocery delivery options from the likes of Amazon and Instacart, as well as drive-thru and pickup services akin to what Walmart is doing, via more established players such as Relay Foods and Peapod, which work with local supermarkets and often also offer delivery. For all of the above, the big selling point is convenience, saving shoppers the time and hassle involved in the boring but necessary task of gathering of groceries.
Walmart is only testing the service in one location, but the move is noteworthy nonetheless because it’s the world’s largest retailer here dipping its toes into what many see as the future of grocery shopping. And rest assured that Walmart is learning from the experiment, and that if it’s successful, shoppers will see the pickup option spread around the country.
“Certainly I know there are folks that are thinking about that and trying to figure out ways to meet the customer’s ever changing demands,” Mitch Fevold, the grocery manager at the Walmart where the test is taking place, said to a local TV station.
Fevold explained that after customers place their order and schedule a pickup time, they pull up to a large drive-thru area with a roof overhead that bears some resemblance to a gas station. Instead of a gas pump, the customer finds a touch screen kiosk, which he taps to alert store staffers that he’s arrived and ready for pickup. “The groceries are then loaded up and the customer would actually have the opportunity to review fresh products,” Fevold said.
At least in this test case, Walmart’s pickup service is being run out of a “click-and-collect” facility, a warehouse-type building where only employees are allowed inside, rather than at a Walmart retail location that welcomes shoppers. The concept is very similar to the Zoomin Market, a drive-thru-only grocery store concept opened earlier this year in Kansas.
Also interesting: For now at least, Walmart’s service is offered at no charge above the cost of the customer’s order. That’s how competing services like Peapod worked originally too. But as of early September, Peapod, which works with large supermarket chains such as Stop & Shop and Giant, instituted a $2.95 fee for store pickup, with a minimum order of $60. Alternately, customers can opt for a membership pass granting unlimited pickup and delivery, ranging in price from $39 for three months to $99 for a year.
Worried that Craigslist iPhone might have been stolen? Now there's a way to know.
Buying used electronics has always been tricky. On the one hand, the prices are lower and platforms like Craigslist make shopping a breeze. On the other hand, you run the risk of buying a device that doesn’t work perfectly. And then there’s always the chance you could end up giving money to a thief — a risk that’s especially acute when purchasing a used iPhone. A full half of robberies in San Francisco were smartphone related, and similar patterns have emerged in other major cities.
Luckily for honest buyers, and anyone who doesn’t want their own iDevice nabbed, Apple has a released a tool to identify whether or not a given iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device is stolen. The website, which does not require a login, asks users to enter the serial number of their prospective purchase, and will then reveal whether the phone in question has an activation lock in place. If it does, that means either that the phone was stolen or the person selling it hasn’t correctly reset their device. Either way, it’s not a phone you want to buy.
The activation lock is relatively new to iOS, and works by preventing anyone from resetting an iPhone without the owner’s Apple ID and password. The feature was introduced in iOS 7 and turned on automatically in iOS 8, making it harder for criminals to sell their ill-gotten merchandise. PC World notes San Francisco iPhone thefts dropped by 38% in the six months after activation lock first launched.
However, hackers have recently succeeded in circumventing the lock, making it more likely that second-hand shoppers could accidently end up with a pilfered product. Now, when you see a deal that looks too good (or too shady) to be true, you’ll be able to confirm those suspicions.
Paid memberships at the local business review service Angie's List have been rising for years, and the stock just took off. Even so, reviews of the company's long-term prospects aren't so hot.
Updated on Oct. 3 at 7 pm
To anyone under the age of 30, the idea of paying for reviews or online content of any sort is probably puzzling. But for nearly two decades, the online review service Angie’s List has built a loyal, paying membership of homeowners and renters who find real value in a network where real-life people can exchange honest, trustworthy recommendations about handymen, contractors, plumbers, electricians, clean-it crews, and other services they’ve used personally.
To these folks, the value proposition is simple: When you’re considering who to hire to do a $50,000 home renovation, forking over $20 or $40 for access to reviews on local contractors is a no-brainer. Indeed, according to the company’s second quarter 2014 results, paid memberships hit 2.8 million at the end of June, up from 2.2 million a year before and just 820,000 as recently as 2011.
So why does Angie’s List appear to be on the ropes?
This week, a report surfaced that the company had hired investment bankers to explore the possibility of putting Angie’s List up for sale. Shares of the stock rose more than 20% on the news but were still down more than 50% compared to a year ago. An in-depth post by the Indianapolis Business Journal suggests why: Angie’s List, founded in 1995, has never turned a profit. A report released last October, for instance, showed the company had a net loss of $13.5 million for the third quarter of 2013, following a loss of $18.5 million for the same period a year prior.
Why hasn’t all its growth translated into profits? Much of it can be attributed to (presumably expensive) expansion into new markets; the service is now available in 253 areas of the country, compared with around 200 in 2012.
More to the point, Angie’s List has been forced to scale back the amount charged for each membership as Yelp, Google+ Local, TripAdvisor, and other user review sites have flourished with an open-to-everyone, completely free business model. The most recent Angie’s List report states that from 2010 onward, the average annual membership fee was just over $12, down from more than $36 a decade earlier.
And the amount members pay continues to drop. A Wall Street Journal post published a year ago detailed Angie’s List’s plans to cut membership fees in several key cities to around $10 annually. Today, it’s a cinch to head over to an online coupon site to find offers for 30% or 40% off, bringing the cost of a one-year subscription down as low as $5.39.
Meanwhile, the company recently agreed to pay a $2.8 million settlement to end a lawsuit alleging it had re-upped members without proper notice and at higher rates than subscribers were led to believe.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the trustworthiness of Angie’s List is increasingly being called into question. Critics point out that a growing portion of Angie’s List revenues come from service providers paying for advertising on the site—the same service providers that are supposed to be rated in non-biased fashion by members. “Almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated,” a 2013 Consumer Reports investigation explained.
CR called out in particular the practice of allowing advertisers with B or better ratings to be pushed to the top of search results as questionable at best. “We think the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results… They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads.”
To be fair, many Angie’s List competitors also actively solicit the businesses reviewed on their sites as advertisers. Yelp is known to flood restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other small businesses with pleas to advertise on the site, to the point that one restaurant in the San Francisco area launched a bizarre “Hate Us on Yelp” campaign to undermine the user-review site. (Despite claims that it engages in what amounts to extortion, Yelp has repeatedly stated that advertising doesn’t affect a business’s ratings in any way.) Porch.com, an online network created to help homeowners find contractors and other home improvement services, launched a partnership referral system with Lowe’s this year. While businesses don’t pay to be listed, the website gives extra visibility to contractors that pay for a premium membership, such as making it easier to see their phone numbers in search results. (Full disclosure: Porch contributes articles on home improvement to Money.com.)
For the time being, Angie’s List seems to have figured out how low it must cut membership fees in order to keep increasing subscriber numbers. But the strategy hardly seems sustainable, especially if the perception that the service’s ratings aren’t trustworthy continues to spread. Convincing consumers it’s worthwhile to pay for a review-and-ratings service when there are free alternatives is tough enough. It’s borderline impossible to convince them that doing so is worth the money when there’s reason to question whether the ratings are entirely legitimate.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described how Porch.com enhances the visibility of contractors who pay for a premium profile on their site.
Think that "natural" food you're buying is made without artificial ingredients? Think again.
You might think that labels describing products as “local,” “craft,” and “natural” indeed mean that they’re local, craft, and natural. To a disturbing degree these days, you’d be wrong. Here are five examples of how food and drink labels can be vague, meaningless, or downright fraudulent, and how consumers are being duped as a result.
Liquor That’s “Local” and “Craft”
In a story about the emerging small-batch craft liquor trend, the Denver Post recently asked an interesting question: “Ever wonder how a brand-new distiller is offering 8-year-old whiskey?”
The answer is that the new company is buying the hooch, typically from an industrial factory in another state like Kentucky or Indiana. The truth is that often, according to the Denver Post investigation, the packaging and marketing of supposedly hand-crafted, locally produced whiskeys, vodkas, and bourbons are the only things actually concocted by the company on the label. In related news, a class-action lawsuit in Iowa against the makers of Templeton Rye whiskey received approval to proceed this week; the suit alleges that consumers were tricked into believing the product was made in Iowa when in fact it was made in an Indiana factory.
Critics say that most of the rapidly growing legions of new players in the craft liquor space are mere marketers, not manufacturers, and that they intentionally mislead buyers into thinking the booze is made in-house. Sometimes the language on labels is an indication—the words “produced by” rather than “distilled by” may be a giveaway that the brand doesn’t make its own product—while other times the labels are even more vague or simply false, and the hope is that no one really unearths the truth.
Thankfully, authentic craft liquor makers tend to be geeky types who dwell on every last detail of production and happily run through the process step by step on websites and tours. If you’re unsure about a brand and want to know more about how the product came to be, all you likely have to do is ask.
“Local” Farmers Markets
When you buy, say, kale at a farmers market, it’s reasonable to assume the kale is grown at the farm whose representatives are doing the selling. But perhaps you shouldn’t jump to such conclusions.
One apprentice who worked farmers’ markets for his employer in New England explained in a confession published by Modern Farmer that he was unknowingly selling kale that came from a farm in Georgia. The New England farm was also passing off Canadian asparagus and California salad greens as its own “local” produce at farmers markets. The confessor confronted his boss about the produce of questionable origins, and “he said that not all of it was coming from the farm, that some of it was coming from other farms, and I asked was it coming from local farms and he said some of it was not.”
More and more, American consumers say that eating healthier diets is important to them. According to the 2014 Food & Health Survey, taste and price are be the two biggest reasons people purchase food and beverages (listed by 90% and 73% of consumers, respectively), but the healthfulness of what’s put inside one’s body is catching up as a key factor: 71% said it was very important, compared with 61% in 2012.
Quite naturally, many of these health-minded consumers are likely to be drawn to foods labeled as “natural.” There’s just one problem: The word means pretty much … nothing. Consumer Reports found that three out of five consumers check specifically for “natural” products, “despite there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term.” And this summer, the consumer advocacy group decided to do something about the fact that millions are seemingly being misled into believing the term “natural” only applies to foods that are made without pesticides, artificial ingredients, or genetically modified organisms.
“Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the natural food label, we are launching a new campaign to kill the natural label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing, and deceptive,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, said in a statement in July. “We also don’t believe it is necessary to define natural when there is already another label—organic—that comes much closer to meeting consumer expectations and is accompanied by legal accountability.”
Any Kind of Fish You’re Buying
An alarming study released last year by the nonprofit group Oceana showed that the mislabeling of seafood sold in restaurants, sushi shops, and supermarkets happens all the time. In a study covering 21 states around the country, one-third of all samples were listed as the wrong kind of fish—the “snapper” turned out to be rockfish, for instance. Restaurants in northern California misidentified fish in a whopping 58% of the samples taken, while Pennsylvania was the worst state overall, with 56% of the seafood in grocery stores and restaurants turning out to be something other than what was listed on menus and pricing labels.
Meanwhile, a series of Boston Globe stories that predate the Oceana study also showed that restaurants and supermarkets routinely mislabel the seafood they sell. Investigators followed up that analysis with another study indicating that shoppers were regularly paying too much for seafood in supermarkets because the fish weight (and therefore, price) was inflated thanks to ice being factored in during the weighing process. In all likelihood, this means that some consumers have been charged excessively for seafood for two separate reasons—because of ice skewing the true amount they were paying for, and because they were duped into thinking they were getting a pricier kind of fish.
Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island are beer brands that claim to be authentic craft beers, and many consumers assume that’s what they’re getting. Yet all three brands are owned by the world’s two biggest brewing companies—MillerCoors for the first two, and AnheuserBusch InBev in the case of Goose Island. In other words, these brews fall under the domain of the same companies manufacturing and marketing Coors Light and Budweiser, brands that are as mass-market and non-craft as you can get.
Amid the rapidly growing craft beer craze, it’s understandable that bigger companies would try to cash in on the trend by selling brews that appear to be made with personal care and “small batch” appeal. Just as understandably, the independent craft beer community, as embodied by the Colorado-based Brewers Association, has taken umbrage at the way that multinational corporations are trying to stealthily pass off mass-produced “crafty” beers as true craft product.
When the market for new car sales is hot, smart buyers know to look instead at the overflowing inventory of used cars—a supply that's cheap and getting cheaper.
It’s a great time to be in the market for a used car. The Wall Street Journal recently cited data indicating that used-car prices declined for the four consecutive months through August. USA Today noted that the average used car purchased at a franchised auto dealership sold for $10,883 in August, down 1.6% from the previous year and 2.4% versus July 2014. Edmunds.com predicted that used car prices would dip around 2% overall this year, and that some used vehicles—in particular, large crossover SUVs like the Chevy Traverse—would drop in price by upwards of 8%.
What’s more, the forecast calls for used-car prices to stay on a downward trend for the foreseeable future. AutoTrader.com, the Atlanta-based online marketplace for new and used vehicles, says that its inventory of certified pre-owned vehicles has risen 6% since March, and that by year’s end buyers can expect a handful of top “pre-loved” car models—including the 2011 versions of the Ford Fusion, Toyota Corolla, and Honda CR-V—to be priced at roughly 5% less than what dealers were asking just six months ago.
What accounts for the sudden price dip? A quick review of what has happened in the new and used car markets over the past few years sheds some light. In 2011, used vehicle prices hit a 16-year high in the wake of the Great Recession, when relatively few consumers were purchasing or leasing new cars because money was tight and credit was less available. That meant a shrinking supply of used cars, as there were fewer trade-ins or vehicles coming off lease. The “Cash for Clunkers” stimulus program also removed millions of used vehicles from the market, further tightening supply.
According to Cars.com, the average 2012 listing price for five popular used vehicles five or more years old had risen a whopping 29% over the three years prior. Around that time, however, new car leases and sales surged, rising 13% in 2012 and continuing with impressive growth in 2013 and 2014. All of those new vehicle purchases and leases have translated to a parallel rise in trade-ins and cars coming off leases. “Leasing has surged in recent years with thousands of those cars coming back to dealerships as used cars,” Michelle Krebs, AutoTrader.com senior analyst, said via press release. “The abundance of returned lease cars should result in used cars coming off their historical highs of recent years, representing good buys for consumers.”
The takeaway is that used cars are cheap, at least when compared to the record highs of a few years ago, and that the market for previously owned vehicles should remain attractive to buyers through the near future.
Yet this turn of events isn’t all good for consumers. When used car prices tank, so does the value of your trade-in, if you have one. Also, automakers are more likely to offer low-price lease deals when their anticipated resale value is high. The flip side is that when used car prices crater, like they’re doing now, car dealerships must assume that they’ll be forced to sell off-lease vehicles for less money—and therefore they need to make more money from the person leasing the car in the first place. In other words, typical monthly payments for a customer leasing a new car are likely to rise compared to the rates available not long ago.
Comcast is hardly the only company that should be doing some soul searching and commit—not only with words but actions—to making customer service genuinely better.
Because the state of customer service has been bad for so long, and because we’ve heard many times over that some or another big initiative would improve customer service dramatically only to have little or no impact, we’re skeptical about the effectiveness of any broad campaign supposedly crafted to address age-old customer grievances. Nonetheless, it was good to see Comcast’s recent announcement that a long-serving executive named Charlie Herrin had been named as the company’s new senior vice president of customer experience. “Charlie will listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make,” a message from Comcast president and CEO Neil Smit explained on Friday.
Read between the lines and it sure looks like Comcast is acknowledging that in the past, customers haven’t exactly been top of mind when it comes to company decisions. That’s no revelation to consumers, of course, who have routinely dinged Comcast for terrible customer service. In 2014, Comcast “won” the annual Worst Company in America competition as voted by Consumerist readers, the second time in recent years it has nabbed that dubious honor.
While it’s unclear what Herrin and Comcast will do to improve customer service, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one, which Smit did more squarely when he said, “It may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority … and that’s what we are going to do.” To which the consensus reaction among consumers is … it’s about damn time. Followed by, we’ll believe it when we actually see real,meaningful change.
To be fair, it’s not just Comcast that’s sorely in need of a customer service makeover. Here are three entire business categories that are regularly bashed for not putting customers’ needs first on the agenda.
Pay TV & Internet Providers
Current Comcast competitor and likely merger partner Time Warner Cable is also a regular contender for the worst service title, as are other pay TV-Internet providers including DirecTV and Verizon.
Among the complaints are that there is a lack of true competition in the category, because roughly three-quarters of Americans have exactly one local choice for a high-speed Internet provider. A survey published this summer indicated that more than half of Americans would leave their cable company if they could, and nearly three-quarters said that pay TV providers are predatory and take advantage of the lack of competition. Among the most hated pay TV practices that consumers would love to see changed are promotional rates that are replaced by skyrocketing monthly charges, frustrating and time-consuming run-ins with customer service reps, and bundled packages overloaded with channels and options the customer doesn’t want (let’s add smaller packages and a la carte channel selection, please).
The good news for cell phone users is that customer satisfaction is on the rise, increasing 2.6% according to the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The bad news, however, is that while we’re happier with the actual gadgets (from Samsung in particular), satisfaction with the companies providing our cell phone service—including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—remains stagnant and below average.
Plenty of other studies also show just how frustrated and dissatisfied consumers are with wireless providers nowadays. A vote-off at Ranker.com, for example, placed AT&T at the top of the list of “Companies with the Worst Customer Service.” Among the many problems consumers have with wireless providers is that choosing a handset and data-minutes-texting package is absurdly complicated, with countless permutations, obfuscations, and mysterious add-on charges. This past weekend, a New York Times columnist presented a painstaking step-by-step analysis of why the $199 price advertised for the new iPhone 6 is a joke—because by the time fees and monthly upcharges are tacked on, upgrading to the new phone will easily run more than $600.
“Wireless service has always been one of the most complex purchases a human can possibly make,” Eddie Hold, a wireless industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group, summed up in a Consumer Reports story last year. “It’s always been horrific.”
Number 3 on the Ranker list of companies with the worst customer service, just below AT&T and Time Warner Cable, is Bank of America. Another study, from 24/7 Wall Street, used customer service surveys to put Bank of America in the #1 spot for its Customer Service Hall of Shame, and two other banking institutions, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, are in the top (bottom?) 10. (The study factored in ratings for these institutions’ banking and credit card services.)
What may come as a surprise—a sad and ironic one, at that—is that customer satisfaction with banks is apparently at a record high. The 2014 J.D. Power study on U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction indicates that big banks and regional banks have made some strides in terms of making customers happier (or less disgusted) with their service, and that overall bank scores are higher than they’ve ever been since the study has been conducted. Yet the J.D. Power study shows there’s a long way to go: The most common reason given for switching banks is poor customer service, and millennials, minorities, and affluent consumers stand out as being particularly dissatisfied with today’s banks.
“Even with record high satisfaction, there are some banks that fall far short in meeting customer needs,” J.D. Power’s Jim Miller said via statement. “It is easy for banks to become complacent. To stay at the top of their game, banks should focus on those customers who are not satisfied. And consumers should keep in mind they have the opportunity to shop banks to find the right combination of services, products and fees to meet their needs.”
What’s your pick for the company with the worst customer service? Tweet us at @MONEY with the hashtag #unhappycustomer. Here’s what readers have already said. Add your nomination, and we may publish your feedback in a future post.
In a relatively short period of time, the American coffee habit has gotten a lot more expensive.
Monday, September 29, is National Coffee Day, when restaurant and coffee chains around the country are giving out free (or extremely cheap) cups of Joe to the masses. The day is quite the exception, however, given how as a nation we are spending more and more on coffee.
Here are 7 reasons why:
We’re drinking coffee earlier in life. A study published this year by S&D Coffee & Tea shows that on average, younger millennials start drinking coffee at age 15, while older millennials picked up the habit at 17. Typical members of Gen X, meanwhile, started drinking coffee at 19.
More of us drink coffee regularly. U.S. coffee consumption rose 5% in 2013, according to a National Coffee Association survey, meaning that today 83% of the adult population drinks coffee; 75% have coffee at least once a week.
And we’re drinking higher-priced coffee at that. Data from 2014 shows that 34% of Americans drink gourmet coffee daily, an increase of 3% over last year. Young people in particular are willing to pay higher prices for coffee: In a new PayPal poll, 18% of people age 18 to 34 said they are willing to pay more than $3 per cup, compared with just 8% of those age 50 to 64.
We eat breakfast outside the home more often. Our fast-moving, on-the-go culture has been blamed as a reason for declining sales of cereal and milk, as more Americans are skipping the traditional breakfast at home and opting for foods that can be eaten on the run, like Pop Tarts and fast food via the drive-thru. In fact, breakfast has become enormously important to quick-serve restaurants because it’s the one mealtime experiencing strong growth lately. Coffee purchased at a restaurant or on the go at a convenience store or café is always more expensive than coffee brewed and drunk at home.
One word: Keurig. “In 2002, the average price of a coffee maker was about $35,” a recent post at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management blog stated. “By 2013, that number had risen to around $90.” Truth be told, it’s still easy to find a coffee maker for $35 or even less, it’s just that the type of machine—the traditional kind that brews ground coffee by the pot—is no longer typical. It’s been replaced by the pricier single-cup brewer that came into the mainstream over the last decade thanks to the Keurig company. For many consumers, the speed and convenience of such machines outweighs the premium one must pay beyond the plain old-fashioned coffee maker. Some 1.7 million single-cup Keurig brewers were sold in the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 200,000 over the same period a year before.
Plus, K-Cups themselves are pricier. It’s not just the single-cup machines that cost more—the cups themselves do too. The price per single-serve K-Cup pod varies widely depending on the style of roast, whether you’re buying a small pack or stocking up in bulk, and how strategically you shop for deals. But no matter how good you are at snagging deals, you’ll almost always pay more for coffee pods than you will for old-fashioned ground or whole bean coffee. One price-comparison study conducted a couple of years ago indicated that K-Cup coffee cost more than $50 per pound, roughly four times the cost of a bag of Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts beans. What’s more, K-Cups are subject to a 9% across-the-board price hike in early November. (Side note: Mother Jones and others have pointed out that single-use K-Cups cost more and are worse for the environment than recyclable pod filters, though Keurig Green Mountain has plans to make all K-Cup pods fully recyclable by 2020.)
All coffee is simply getting more expensive. A long-lasting drought in Brazil (the world’s biggest producer of coffee beans) has pushed global coffee prices to near-record highs, and the market may be affected for years to come. Already this year, java junkies have faced price hikes from coffee brands such as Starbucks, Folgers, Maxwell House, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Interestingly, even as coffee has gotten more expensive and economic growth hasn’t exactly been sizzling in recent years, Starbucks sales have outpaced lower-priced competitors Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. What does that show us? For the most part, coffee lovers are passionate about their caffeinated beverages and aren’t going to trade down to what they view as an inferior cup of Joe, even if doing so would save a couple of bucks here and there.
Macy's is outfitting stores with the ability to detect shoppers' exact locations—and then make ads and coupons magically appear on smartphones so they'll buy the merchandise in front of them.
The Shopkick app was born as a combo rewards program and location-based coupon dispenser, in which users accumulated points (or “kicks”) for doing things such as activating the app inside stores, scanning barcodes of specific items, or merely walking inside a participating retailer location. The app works with tons of national retailers, including Best Buy, Sports Authority, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s and was a hot topic in the news a couple of years ago, when Target made Shopkick available for use in all of its stores around the country.
From the get-go, retail experts anticipated a time when such technology would be fine-tuned and pushed to the next level. Instead of the app displaying basic coupons and deals the moment the customer walks through the doors, more precise location-based offers and promotions would appear based on where the shopper is standing inside the store.
During the upcoming holiday shopping season, this futuristic vision of retailer marketing will arrive in a big way at Macy’s. The Washington Post reports that over the next few weeks, Macy’s is installing 4,000 special devices inside nearly 800 stores, with the purpose of detecting the exact location of shoppers—and then sending them special tempting offers accordingly.
The devices, developed by Apple, are called iBeacons, and some people have already described them as “creepy.” Macy’s began testing how Shopkick and iBeacons would work together during the 2013 holiday season. Apparently, the retailer was happy enough with the experiment to roll out the technology to all of its U.S. stores.
How exactly will the tech play out in a real-world situation? Say you’re “in the housewares department standing next to our display of KitchenAid mixers,” Macys.com president Kent Anderson explained. “The ability to transmit to you information — a video about the quality of this product, the accessories that we have as part of our assortment that you may not see there — rich content that may, and should, help us close the sale, is where we potentially see the beacon technology going in our stores.”
Presumably, if the mixer was on sale or part of some other promotion, that information would also appear on the smartphones of those using the Shopkick app. Macy’s says that “more personalized” offers—based perhaps on one’s history of purchasing or browsing in stores and online—could pop up as soon as next spring, though that may depend on how the new program plays out during the upcoming season and how welcoming (or not) shoppers are to the retailer using even more of their personal data.
Macy’s maintains that it will proceed cautiously concerning how often specific location-based ads and promotions will be sent to shoppers in stores. Going to that well too often could prove to be, quite literally, a turn-off in that shoppers could wind up turning off the app. “There is the opportunity to overload them” with special deals, Anderson said, “and I think that the balance has to be found.”