REVIEW: Walking to the iBeacon beat on Regent Street

The Regent Street app is one of the first multi-retailer deployments of iBeacons in the UK. The app itself is great – credit to The Crown Estate for nailing the customer experience – but the retailers themselves really need to do better.

The first positive news is that the app doesn’t ask for registration. I really like this. Granted, it’s tricky anyway for a landlord such as Crown Estates to start collecting customer data without annoying its tenants but lack of registration certainly improves the initial customer experience and gets you straight into the useful screens without delay.

First, the app asks for permission to use your location data and then begins to discover your shopping preferences.

Regent Street App first screen

It has a very intuitive Tinder-esque swipe up/down for brands you like or dislike. If you are indifferent, you swipe sideways to move them out of the way.

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The whole process took less than a minute and didn’t feel like work. I selected the brands I like – mainly mid market menswear – and gave a thumbs down for perfume and jewellery.

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Next the app makes a first guess at what categories you like but gives you the chance to refine the selection. Interestingly, the Regent Street app – unlike others – doesn’t ask any demographic questions. It uses preference information to deduce what it needs to know about you and prepares a personal wall of brands which can be accessed when you’re away from Regent Street to help plan your next visit. Good idea.

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Within the app, you can discover the events happening in Regent Street, a helpful map of participating shops and a set of screens you can browse offline containing messages from each brand.

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With my preferences registered, I set off down the West side of Regent Street, heading South, to see what iBeacon related messages would arrive.

First, Jaeger offering a discount although (like the other brand communications)  it’s not clear whether this offer is special to the app or how it would be redeemed.

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Next, another message from the same brand but from a different app. Jaeger are also working with Iconeme (the people putting beacons into mannequins) but this one suffered from both a technical problem and poor targeting. Iconeme knows I’m a man (it asks during registration) but sent me a womenswear message.

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After Jaeger, it was Gap suggesting I get fit but not offering any special reason to visit the store.

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Then Levi Strauss promoting its loyalty programme.

Levi iBeacon

Followed by Brooks Brothers advising on its new collection.

Brooks Brothers iBeacon

And Reiss suggesting some personal shopping.

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And finally, on the East side, Wolford reminded me about its new collection. I’d excluded womenswear in my preferences it’s no great secret that people who like menswear (men) often also like lingerie.
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Then I crossed the road and headed back up towards Oxford Circus.

Only one brand on the West side of the street wanted to talk to me. That was Gant with a (small) discount offer.

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Stepping out of Gant, I was buzzed a second time by the Jaeger store across the street through the Iconemene app.

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Some notable brands didn’t get in touch at all. I’d given a thumbs up to both SuperDry and Clarks but neither sent me an iBeacon message. Neither did Gaucho even though I’d ticked “I like Argentinian food.”

The Regent Street app’s user experience is excellent but the volume of messages I was sent while walking down the East side of the street could quickly get annoying. Each time the iBeacons contact your phone, you have to pick it up, and click through to the Regent Street app to see what’s on offer. Most of the time it’s going to be easier to just to look at the shop window and read the posters – “Come and see our new collection”, “£100 off when you spend £300” or whatever.

For iBeacons to be genuinely useful, they need to be deployed to send personalised messages about stuff you can’t know about just by looking at a shop window or by following a brand on Twitter. Otherwise, shoppers will quickly become bored and switch off.

I did notice that the Regent Street app has been live since September 2014 but hasn’t published any user statistics yet. It’s not widely promoted either (just the bus shelter poster below) and together this suggests that it’s still in the experimental phase. That’s sensible.

Landlords and brands can only learn by trial and error but the measured pace of progress on Regent Street underlines  why 2015 (like 2014) is not going to be the year iBeacons revolutionise retail.

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