Online to Offline (O2O) Strategy Part 4 – Beacons and Building a Community

Online to offline part 4 - online shopping graphic
From the Stuck At Home Collection by Mariana Gonzalez Vega

In part 3 of our online to offline (O2O) deep dive we talked a great deal about the importance of identity graphs and personalization. Check out part 1 and part 2 if you need to catch up.

In this instalment we’ll be focusing more on retail locations. We’ll be talking about beacons and how physical retail needs to build communities.

Let’s go!

Online to offline - In-store beacons at an Amazon GO store
Photo by Simon Bak on Unsplash


As smartphones have become prevalent over the last 12 or so years, retailers have had to get very creative. One of the most common solutions used are in-store beacons. And they have been used as part of an online to offline strategy for a while.

What is an in-store beacon?

Beacons are bluetooth devices that connect to smartphones within a store. This allows retailers to send messages to smartphones in their location, in real-time. For example, if you’re in a store and you’ve downloaded that retailers app, there’s a good chance you might receive sales messaging from that retailer while you are browsing in the store.

Beacons connect with an identity graph to track the movement of shoppers throughout their stores. So if you have the retailers app installed, then when you are in their store they can connect your physical movements with your identifiers in their identity graph system.

But they do not always work.

Recent smartphone updates have really emphasized privacy. This means that users now have a lot more control over what their mobile apps are actually doing in the background. A beacon will not work unless the following conditions are met:

  • User has the brand’s app installed
  • Bluetooth is switched on
  • User has agreed to share their location data with third-party apps (iOS14 now uses “approximate location” which is a bit different)

Other apps, that are totally unrelated to your favourite shopping app, also may share your data with in-store beacons.

Brands should be careful when utilising beacons as they are in fact a bit “creepy”. Most consumers, when they find out about this, do not react well. So retailers need to be very up front about the benefits of beacons and specifically state what they track and don’t track in plain language. This should be highlighted in-store and on their app/website.

Actions you can take

  • If you are not already, consider using beacons in your retail locations
  • But be sure to be VERY upfront with your customers about beacons
  • Use plain language to communicate with your customers about what you are using beacons for
  • Give customers an incentive to help your beacons to work

Online to offline - Community, people around a chromebook
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Building a community

Building a community for a brand is not easy. In fact, depending on your particular niche, it can be very difficult.

But there are a lot of reasons to do it.

Apple is an excellent example of the benefits of building a community. Apple regularly holds free training sessions for their products in store. In these sessions potential and future customers can learn more about Apple products. This sort of exercise can really help build attachments to a brand that go beyond “convenience” and “price”. That sort of customer loyalty is priceless. And the online to offline benefits are huge. Apple customers tend to book their place in one of these sessions online, before heading to a store.

But holding in-store events is just one way of building a community. You can build a community with a strong CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policy. It does not have to be product-led. Brands that can get involved with people will almost always reap rewards.

There are also strong demographic reasons for brands to get involved and build communities.

Gen “Z”

Generation “Z” (or Zoomers) are often spoken about, sometimes dismissively. But this generation are your future key customers. Generation Z consumers tend to view brands differently to older generations. They value:

  • Collaboration
  • Community
  • Self-expression
  • Authenticity

It’s about inviting your customers to become part of your brand story. They want to be addressed as peers and feel like they are collaborating with your brand.

And this can be done online, as part of an O2O strategy through channels like TikTok. You could then use these channels to drive traffic to your physical stores with special events. This combines the benefits of a branded social media campaign with an offline campaign.

One thing to note about Generation Z is they will not put up with slow technology. They are used to websites and apps running seamlessly. So you need to ensure that your technical offering is strong enough to cater to them.

Actions You Can Take

  • Approach charities to help them. You can hold charity events in-store to increase positive sentiment around your brand
  • Take CSR seriously. It can help your brand build a community
  • Ask your retail staff which causes they think would be a good fit
  • If your niche/product allows it, hold in-store training events
  • Events help you talk to your customers. Use these events to see what they think of your stores and your website
  • Outreach to Generation Z as part of your O2O strategy. They love to collaborate and be part of your story
  • Use TikTok as part of your O2O strategy and bring younger customers to your stores. But stay authentic

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How MAQE can help

MAQE can help your business to construct and implement an online to offline (O2O) strategy. We can build identity graphs, help align your internal teams, build internal O2O dashboards that track core metrics and provide strategic marketing advice. Talk to us via [email protected] to learn more.