What if one app on your phone could unlock personalized offers, and event and restaurant recommendations in real-time, for more than a hundred locations along a single street?
And what if all you had to do was start walking along that street to start receiving and redeeming those deals?
Such is the proposition of the Regent Street app, making headlines in recent weeks for its markedly different use of beacon technology, for a one-app-one-street premise.
The Regent Street app, unveiled in early June, takes advantage of location-aware beacon technology to deliver timely, location-relevant content – discounts, new-product promotions, and the like – to the smartphones of shoppers on Regent Street. The approach differs from the types of beacon deployment we’ve seen so far. Rather than use beacons to leverage an individual brand, or promote a single store, or chain of stores, the Regent Street implementation is an effort – the first of its kind – to use beacon technology to enhance an almost mile-long, more than 130 storefronts thoroughfare, in the heart of London’s West End.
Regent Street, often referred to as London’s 5th Avenue, is home to high-end hotels, restaurants, the BBC headquarters, pricey commercial office space, and 1.5 million square feet of retail flagships and other popular stores. Regent Street, however, is nothing like 5th Avenue when it comes to land ownership – most of the street, save for two blocks at its northern end, is owned by the Crown Estate, a property portfolio nominally held by the Crown – which is how one hundred plus retailers of differing pedigree, marketing identity and target demographic have come to be aggregated by a single app.
The technology rollout is part of an ongoing $1.7 billion modernization program for Regent Street and its side streets, led by the Crown Estate. Beacons have been placed in the entryways of 100 of the street’s most prominent and popular stores, including including Burberry, Banana Republic, Hugo Boss and Anthropologie. Beacons are expected to be installed in the remaining 30+ stores and eateries in the coming months. The endeavor is a partnership between the Crown Estate, British R&D facility Ogilvy Labs, and Seattle-based digital agency AutoGraph, which developed the Regent Street app. The mobile upgrade has been heavily publicized and promoted, both in the international press, as well as in the form of local advertisements on city transit, banners hung along and across Regent Street itself, and flyers handed to passersby.
The head of the Crown Estate’s Regent Street portfolio issued a statement to the press last month, saying, “We want Regent Street to continue to evolve as the world’s most successful shopping destination, which means bringing together online, physical and mobile retailing and using the latest technology to create an experience which delivers across all of the platforms that appeal to 21st century shoppers.”
It’s an intriguing proposition to be sure. Early deployments of beacon technology have proven hugely successful: a recent study published by inMarket found beacons deliver an 19x increase in interactions with advertised products, a 16.5x increase in app usage in-store, and a 6.4x increase in app retention. So too, the Regent Street model, one that bundles more than 100 beacon-equipped retailers within a single app, is not only one that scales, but is also an incredibly economic use of apps. Indeed, as TechCrunch reported just last week, new data from Nielsen suggests there is an upper limit to the number of apps with which users seem to interact. If every new beacon deployment relies on introducing or promoting another brand’s app, retailers might find their efforts frustrated by poor rates of consumer app adoption.
With clear advantages to Regent Street’s landlords then, how does the deployment actually work for the user? What’s the pedestrian experience like on Regent Street itself?
While those of us in the U.S. are able to download the app (available for iOS only at this point), fewer of us are able to jet off to London to give it a try (sadly, my blogging budget doesn’t account for international travel). That’s where my younger sister comes in. Last year, my parents moved to Oxford, England. After graduating from college just last month, my younger sister moved to Oxford to join them. Now basking in the throes of funemployment, I figured I’d put her free time and proximity to London to good use. “Download the app,” I told her, “turn on location services and bluetooth on your phone, and head into London, first stop Regent Street.” Not one to have to be coaxed into shopping, download the app she did, and off she went.
The first step in using the Regent Street app is to build a user profile. For users to receive relevant offers and information as they shop, they first have to log categories of interest, including brands and products, within the app itself. AutoGraph has designed a simple and intuitive onboarding process. Users indicate brand affinity by swiping up or down on a series of 40 some flashcards, each of which represents well-known brands. My sister recalls “liking” about half of the brands presented. The login process in its entirety took her just a couple of minutes.
For the next hour my sister spent on the street, the activity on her phone ebbed and flowed. At times, there was a relative flurry of messaging – screenshots of her homescreen reveal steady streams of notifications, some separated by less than a minute each. At other times, her phone was oddly silent (despite having indicated brand affinity in her user profile for a nearby retailer).
Some of the notifications she received took the form of offers – a 3-for-2 deal on men’s polo shirts from the British retailer Hackett, for example – other times, they appeared as just an extension of a brand’s advertising: “Enjoy delicious Paninis, Salads & Sandwiches,” read the prompt from Starbucks.
The timing of the notifications relative to her location (beacons’ great selling point) was also unpredictable. My sister recalls on more than one occasion receiving a message from a retailer minutes after she had left their store. In J Crew, she stopped to ask a sales assistant her thoughts about the new app. “Ineffective,”was her response.
On the whole, my sister deemed the experience underwhelming, if not slightly frustrating. Compelled to attach herself to her phone even more so than usual proved distracting, she said. In addition, the experience of Regent Street itself for over an hour – technological upgrades aside – proved trying. My sister let me know that navigating a mobile experience while avoiding swarms of tourists on London’s narrow sidewalks was not one she’d eagerly repeat.
So what are we to make from this?
– First, it must be said this is by no means a definitive review. Because the app produces an individual profile for the user based on recorded preferences, the user’s experience of the street, through the app, is (ideally) different from person to person. This is part of the technology’s beauty. Highly personalized, contextually-relevant content delivery can provide a unique augmentation of physical space for each individual. This personalization however, is only possible if the beacon platform a retailer or real estate developer uses is built with the intelligence necessary to provide a highly nuanced, customized experience. Because of the limitations of the Regent Street app’s onboarding process – its somewhat rough cut palette of likes and dislikes quickly populated by the user at the beginning of the app’s use – it’s unlikely, at this stage of the deployment, that the experiences delivered to each visitor to the street are really all that different.
– It should also be said that these are early days in the Regent Street experiment. It’s been less than a month since the Crown Estate released their app, and not all of the hardware is yet in place. It’s possible too that the experience for the user could improve over time. If the app learns from the user’s behavior over repeated visits to Regent Street, it could start making recommendations based on past purchases or attended events, and forgo serving offers and notifications the user has previously ignored. Because my sister visited Regent Street only once, it’s unclear if and how this mobile experience evolves.
Caveats aside, the Regent Street deployment does raise some interesting issues and questions.
– Hardware distribution: The current beacon installation model on Regent Street is one beacon per entrance. This one beacon can do plenty. It can provide, for example, data on instore traffic, visitor capture, and bounce rates, across demographics and by time and date. It can also facilitate contextual messaging – as my sister’s experience demonstrates – to anyone in a predetermined range. What one storefront entrance beacon can’t do, however, is provide a retailer with the fine-grained visitor analytics, and the plurality of creative experiences and customer engagements, that multiple beacons could, if distributed thoughtfully throughout a given space.
While the one beacon per storefront model is perfectly viable for a test-run of the technology, individual retailers might want to realize beacons’ true potential by installing the hardware at more locations inside their stores. Indeed the 3-for-2 polo shirt offer my sister received from Hackett’s would be a much more welcome message to my sister – and would have ensured a much greater chance of conversion – if she had spent time in the store inspecting the polo shirt displays, pondering a purchase (something a beacon, placed in the polo shirt department would have captured). With beacons placed throughout a store, and zoned for variety of experiences and analytics, a retailer is able to target a shopper at the precise time and location it matters most.
– Location: Regent Street is both an odd choice for this type of high-tech rollout, as well as an obvious and logical one. Indeed, the one app, multi-store deployment is (only?) possible because the Crown Estate owns each and every store on the street. This unique arrangement, similar in concept to the American mall, means 130 different brands don’t have to agree on a combined course of action, and can share one real estate proprietor’s identity as part of their own. However, Regent Street, more so than any American Mall (save perhaps the Mall of America), and much unlike the many grocery stores and retail chains where beacons have been tested so far, is a destination, one unlikely to be part of locals’ regular shopping routine. Indeed, demographics play a key role in whether the Regent Street deployment finds success – the Crown Estate estimates Regent Street receives more than 7.5 million tourists a year. The online journal MediaPost, in turn, posits tourists account for over half of the street’s pedestrian traffic on any given day. (First person experiences of the street, meanwhile, suggest MediaPost’s estimates significantly undercount).
This is not to say, by any means, that a high percentage of tourists threaten a beacon deployment’s chance of success. Far from it – beacons have great utility in the hospitality industry, including at airports and at hotels. A large-scale retail setting, however, might be something different. Will tourists, visiting the street in all likelihood just one time, download the app? Only time will tell.
Questions remain as to the value proposition for local residents as well. While Regent street is the high-rent equivalent of 5th Avenue, it comes with the soul-crushing feel of pedestrian-choked Broadway in Soho, a mosh pit of tourists locals typically go out of their way to avoid. Tourists visit Regent Street because it is one of London’s most well-known historic and retail-oriented attractions. Locals need more of a reason to go. Beacons are fantastic at incentivizing consumers instore, when the technology can be used to target shoppers in contextually-relevant ways. For beacons to incentivize shopping when potential customers are well out of range, the technology in and of itself has to be the draw (and ideally be enough of a draw to bring locals to the street on more than just one occasion). Whether the Regent Street app finds traction with the local population or not, we’ll have to wait and see. In real estate, everyone knows it’s about location. For a good implementation of beacon technology, this adage might also hold true.
– How “contextual relevance” is established:
The Regent Street app is touted by its creators as a better way for visitors explore what the street has to offer, and to discover new brands and stores with which they might not yet be familiar. It is possible, however, the the app’s configuration undermines this discoverability objective.
When the user first downloads the app, he is required to indicate brand affinity, and an assorted jumble of likes and dislikes, based on a set of pre-populated fields. If the user says he likes H&M, he is likely to receive engagements from the brand in the vicinity of the store. If the user does not select H&M – perhaps he’s never heard of the brand – he will not receive a notification from the store. As the user makes his way down the street then, his discovery of H&M won’t occur through his mobile device, but through the more old fashioned way of looking up from the screen.
AutoGraph designed their flashcard-style interface to quickly capture consumers’ preferences, and the app works as such as a fun and effective way to quickly log users’ interests without any prior user history. A more intelligent and ambient implementation of the technology, however will come with more prescience and omniscience, informed by a variety of sources – a clever aggregation of your past purchasing behaviors, online wishlists, social shares, and other location- and time-specific online and offline activity. Maybe the user hasn’t heard yet of H&M, but the beacon platform knows that the weather is turning, the user has set himself a reminder to buy a coat on his phone, his best friend’s favorite brand is H&M, and the retailer has a sale going on for coats the days he visits. When the app alerts him to the sale, the user thus “discovers” a new favorite store.
We’re looking forward to seeing how the Regent Street implementation evolves, and how visitors and retailers reap value from the deployment. While I might have trouble persuading my sister to reevaluate the experience several months from now, it’s certainly something anyone with an interest or stake in the industry should do. In the meantime though, we here at Footmarks are excited to work with retailers, venue hosts and developers with miles of city streets to their name, to realize an intelligent, creative, and impactful roll-out of beacon technology.
We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 1 (800)-558-2556 to get started!