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NRF 2016: Waitrose struggles with beacons

Waitrose has admitted it is struggling to implement beacons in its stores due to concerns around frustrating customers with marketing messages.

Speaking at the NRF Big Show in New York City this week, Tom Fuller, head of IT planning and engagement for Waitrose, said: “An exciting area of technology is beacons, but it is difficult to make them work.”

Fuller said more advancements in the technology needs to be made to ensure beacons are more practical in the future.

“Micro-location and a focus on context is really powerful,” said Fuller. “But there are practicalities to overcome as there is a real danger that it becomes the new spam.”

Fuller said Waitrose has been trialling beacon technologies to offer coupons to customers based on where they are in the store. “But you need to be really cautious, and if you push to much information you’ll really frustrate them, it has to be a subtle, gentle reminder."

Speaking alongside Fuller on a customer panel at NRF, Matt Newby, head of technology, store stock, at Tesco, said the retailer is concentrating on technologies where the customer opts in to engage.

“There’s new technology coming through and it’s all unique, but the question is how do I use it in my operation, and how does this improve life for customers and empower our colleagues.”

Other technologoes

While beacon technology may not yet be mature enough, Waitrose is continuing to innovate in other digital technologies, including digital concierge services and rolling out iPads and Google apps to colleagues. 

Fuller also said the Waitrose board is always asking the technology team about digital shelf labels. “We haven’t made it work for us yet, but there’s something there,” he said.

He explained that a proposition which is not just digital displays of prices, but provides rich product information like videos will be the winning technology. 

“It’s not only a platform for more dynamic pricing and planning, but used to engage with customers. That’s when the business case becomes more relevant,” he said. 

Tesco & RFID

Meanwhile, Tesco has rolled out RFID to its F&F clothing brand, beginning with a trial in three stores early last year, while 200 stores were live by November and a further 300 are planned to be live soon. 

Newby said the roll out was complicated, enlightening and rewarding all at the same time.
“The key thing is what it means for our customers,” he said. “How we improve the experience is absolutely key.”

He noted Tesco’s F&F brand has seen a huge reduction in out of stocks by introducing automatic replenishment. “Out of stocks improved by 75% and 99% in some stores,” he said. “And replenishment in store is now based on what customers want.”

He said RFID has also reduced the time it takes for inventory counts, allowing staff to be on the shop floor better serving customers.

Newby said the next step is to harness all of the data RFID brings into the business in order to be predictive and react quickly. 

But Fuller noted: “Technology isn’t the star of the show, we find it’s important to have a really strong brand, and then think of [technology] to extenuate your brand.

“Technology is really easy to predict, what is difficult to predict is customer behaviour, and understanding which will work. This means a strong culture of experimentation and working hand in hand with customers.”