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Beacons teem with potential — and peril

The beacon bandwagon is quickly getting crowded with retailers: HBC Department Store Group said this week it will partner with the vendor Swirl to deploy the technology in more than 130 of its Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor’s outlets across North America. GameStop will soon start testing beacons in an effort to fend off online game vendors like Amazon that increasingly are eating into its business. And the sausage maker Hilshire Brands recently said a test of beacon-based marketing drove a 20 percent increase in “purchase intent.” Juniper Research only added to the hype this week when it predicted beacons and NFC would help grow the audience of mobile coupon users to 1.05 billion by 2019, nearly doubling the 560 million users in 2014.

There’s a lot to like about in-store marketing via Bluetooth low energy, as we’ve covered at length. But as Steve Smith at MediaPost wrote earlier this week, a recent GroupM Next survey of 1,000 mobile users found that 27.1 percent of respondents typically don’t allow the app notifications that are an underpinning of BLE-based marketing campaigns. One-third of those users said they already get too many alerts, and that number will almost surely increase as retailers begin the barrage of mobile ads pushed to users as they move throughout the store. And we wrote earlier this year about a survey by the retail app publisher Retale that found 70 percent of mobile users don’t want to be tracked through their smartphones as they shop. Wise retailers will heed those figures and leverage beacons to selectively send targeted ads that consumers actually find valuable, but far too many retailers are sure to assault their consumers with BLE-based come-ons. And that will slow the growth of the entire market.