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Target joins the beacon bandwagon with trial in 50 stores

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 10, 2015
Target, the nation's second-largest discount chain, is testing beacon technology in 50 of its stores.

target beacon
Target said it is testing beacon technology in 50 of its stores. Credit: Target

Target, the nation's second-largest discount chain, is testing beacon technology in 50 of its stores.

The retailer joins a growing number of retailers that hope to attract customers with timely deals sent to their smartphones and smartwatches on products based on their location.

Growth in the use of beacons with mobile devices is seen by retailers as a way to improve customer loyalty and, ultimately, sales.

At the same time, use of beacons worries privacy experts, who say that too much personal data is being collected and stored by retailers or third parties. That data, they said, could become vulnerable to hackers.

"Many people are not concerned about the personal tracking data being acquired everywhere we go," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "Many of us have become numb to all the data gathered about us, and it gets worse every day."

The use of beacons will only add to the growing pool of personal data available to hackers, analysts said.

"The privacy issue is a key issue for consumers," Gold added. "What if you are in the birth control section of the pharmacy or looking for hair dye?" That's the kind of personal data that could prove embarrassing or even harmful if somehow hacked and made available to an employer, insurance company or others.

The primary focus of Target's announcement Wednesday was on ways that customers can improve their in-store experience by connecting to the egg-sized beacons that are spread around the store. The beacons use Bluetooth technology to connect to the customer's device via an updated Target app. The app is available now for iPhones and is coming soon to Android devices.

The app comes with a "Target Run" home page, which acts like a social media site's newsfeed to provide updated product recommendations or coupons based on a customer's location.

The online announcement doesn't mention how Target plans to use the customer data that it receives either through the app or in-store. However, the free app in the AppStore includes a lengthy privacy policy, available in a scroll-down, that is written in plain English and appears (based on a Computerworld analysis) to be state-of-the-art for customer data privacy. The policy includes how Target collects, uses, shares and protects personal data. The policy is also available on the Target website without the need to download the app.

"Our privacy policy speaks for itself," Target spokesman Eddie Baeb said in an email to Computerworld. "We take these matters very seriously and keep them in mind at all times when we're developing new digital services like the 'Target Run' experience or making updates to our apps and online offerings."

 

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