The North Face is testing geo-fencing in a serious fashion, as the retailer has rolled out the strategy across each of its 31 locations in recent months. Geo-fencing allows stores to offer an opt-in "auto check-in" service to their patrons, no matter if they use a smart phone or regular cellular device.
For The North Face, once users opt in to the outdoors gear retailer's "Summit Signals" program, the brand has been automatically delivering SMS offers to them after they enter a 1.5-mile radius, according to Placecast, which provides a technology called "Shop Alerts" for the effort. Such users opt in for what amounts to automatic geo-social check-ins and check-outs when they arrive/leave a location.
Additional points of interest for potential customers of The North Face are also geo-fenced, such as outdoor areas and hiking trails. While quick-serve brand Sonic and retailers American Eagle and REI have tested the concept in single markets, The North Face is one of the first to take the idea to a national scale.
Alistair Goodman, CEO of the San Francisco-based Placecast, told ClickZ that The North Face has been informing consumers of the program in e-mail campaigns, with in-store messaging, and on the brand's website. To register for Summit Signals, they can text "TNF" to a shortcode (25787) or register their mobile number online after clicking through an e-mail or website ad. (See image of landing page below.) The consumers are then sent a text message that asks them to share their location by replying "Y".
"We also make it very easy to opt-out of the program, which we believe is key to customer trust and satisfaction," Goodman said. "Users can simply type 'stop' to end the service."
He added that The North Face focuses on SMS messaging that is designed to relevantly engage the consumer, rather than offer sales or discounts. "Geo-fencing locations offers brand marketers the opportunity to reach consumers when they’re in the right mindset for making a purchase or interacting with the brand," Goodman said. "In other words, the days, hours, and times in which consumers are in a mindset to interact or shop."
Below are three examples of past SMS messages sent by The North Face:
TNF: If u explore in the most severe conditions, take cover in a Plasma Thermal Jacket. It'll keep u warm & dry in high altitudes. Get urs @TNF Downtown Seattle
TNF: You've trained. You're ready. The TNF Boulder Marathon is this Sunday, Sept 19. Run a 10K, a half or a full marathon. Register @http://bit.ly/DD3OK
TNF: If you hike & you run--thru puddles, streams & dry terrain alike, we've got the shoe for you: Alkaline GTX XCR. Tell us ur size @TNF Portland.
Goodman's team wouldn't disclose how many opt-ins The North Face has accrued so far, and the San Leandro, CA-based retailer wasn't available to comment. When asked how many people had signed up for the 14-month-old Shop Alerts program for all brand clients, a Placecast spokesperson replied via e-mail that it was "in the tens of thousands."
Such an adoption rate would seem modest. Indeed, whether or not consumers will take to geo-fencing and other location-based platforms like Foursquare in big numbers certainly remains to be seen.
Tasso Roumeliotis is founder of Location Labs, a San Francisco-based firm that supplies Placecast with APIs that facilitate retailer clients' messaging across various wireless carriers. He pointed out that platforms like Placecast's Shop Alerts have advantages over the Foursquares of the world, such as being able to run SMS, web-based, or app-based campaigns to target various types of cell phone users.
Roumeliotis added that the automatic check-in potential lets stores deliver offers without walk-in patrons having to hit a button. "You can do coupon targeting, and it's a contextualized push," he said.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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