The app also could tell her that the shoes she's about to walk past just went on sale, or it could alert the store's cashier that this is a loyal customer and should be given a special discount at the register.
Using Bluetooth beacons, Neiman Marcus, for instance, could point out products in the store via the app on the customer's phone or guide the customer to sales.
"You place [beacons] throughout the store and then your mobile app can react to the customer's location," said Emmons, who spoke at the National Retail Federation's annual conference in New York this week, told Computerworld. "We know you're at my door, walking through it, so I can appropriately greet and message you. We can know when you're two feet from something. You might be at checkout, and we could make an additional offer. We might say, 'Hey, you're near the restaurant and there's a chef there signing cookbooks today.' "
Neiman Marcus did a pilot test with the beacon technology, using Apple's Passbook, which is now called Apple Wallet, in three stores last year.
"We were happy with the results," Emmons said. "We got permission to go bigger. We're doing a new beacon project now. The continuation is building beacons into our Neiman Marcus app, rather than using the Apple Wallet. You are in the app with a known ID so we can do a better job of personalizing it."
Neiman Marcus is doing a soft launch with the project in a single Dallas store this week.
After the test, which will run for three to six months, Emmons and his team will decide if the technology should be rolled out to more stores.
"Part of the process is learning what we can do, what helps the customer and what they respond to, and what they don't like so we can stop doing that," Emmons said. "We want to step lightly. Just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should do it."
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said retailers should step lightly with beacons because it would be easy for customers to think a store is being intrusive with this kind of technology.
"It's one thing to say, 'Please tell us about yourself so we can serve you better in the store,' " said Gottheil. "It's another to remind people they are being "watched" whenever they browse. They know it, but unless you do it well, it seems intrusive."
However, if a retailer can use the technology without alienating its customers, the company would have more options for reaching out to consumers, while also gathering more information about their shopping habits.
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