Condé Nast's 19-year-old recipe warehouse Epicurious is the latest company to join food purveyors such as McCormick in tapping tech firm inMarket's expanding network of mobile tracking beacons, which connect consumers to content and discounts as they stroll the grocery aisles.
Through the partnership, Epicurious aims to deliver information and deals on partner products to people who have downloaded its self-titled app. The publisher, which will implement the tracking system for its Apple iOS app before an Android rollout, is only just testing the mobile tracking and targeting technology and how it would operate in a live store environment.
A likely scenario: Shoppers with the mobile Epicurious app installed and Bluetooth enabled will receive a notification when they're inside one of the thousands of inMarket network retail locations. The system might serve up a pasta recipe and related shopping list, along with a discount for one of the dish's ingredients.
"This is where we pull in our marketing partners," said Carolyn Kremins, senior VP and general manager of Epicurious. "Maybe at that point we will feed you a coupon for 50 cents off Buitoni pasta."
According to Epicurious, Safeway is among the retailers whose customers it can reach via inMarket's trackers.
In-store tracking via mobile devices has yet to become pervasive, but inMarket and similar firms are hoping to drive critical mass.
"Our goal is to have 30,000 to 40,000 beacons deployed in the next 12 months," said inMarket CEO Todd Dipaola, adding the company just started installing its beacons in stores in January.
Tracing consumer footpaths
Beacons resemble wall air fresheners and can be installed anywhere. They employ Bluetooth Low Energy technology that pick up on signals emanated by mobile devices. Presence of these small contraptions in business locations is growing as firms recognize the value of location data for tracing consumer footpaths and targeting timely offers when people are poised to open their wallets.
Retailers such as Kenneth Cole and Timberland have used the technology to offer discounts to shoppers who have downloaded the Swirl app, and Major League Baseball this season began using the technology in ballparks starting with Citi Field, home to the New York Mets.
The Epicurious app has been downloaded 10 million times, according to Ms. Kremins; it features thousands of recipes searchable by cuisine or ingredient, and allows people to update mobile shopping lists based on what the recipes call for. Around 95% of those downloaders use Apple iPhones, she said.
When Epicurious launches the inMarket-fueled app feature, expected in May, the company plans to notify users of an app update, which will ask them to opt-in to enable the location tracking. "This is not something they're just going to be pounced on as they walk in a store," said Ms. Kremins. "We want to be very transparent about it."
The Epicurious partnership with inMarket is exclusive for three months, according to the firms, meaning inMarket cannot take on another recipe or shopping list app partner in that time period. InMarket itself offers shopping apps including CheckPoints, which provides rewards for scanning product barcodes that reveal additional information, games and offers.
The beacon network operates in grocery and big box retailers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle; McCormick's Zatarain's began aiming offers to shoppers via mobile apps triggered by inMarket's beacons about a month ago, said Mr. Dipaola. The company says more than 30 million people have at least one mobile app downloaded that communicates with its technology.
The company hopes its partnerships with CPG brands and subsequent offers that give shopping app users incentives to buy products while in stores will entice retailers to install its beacon hardware in their locations.
Epicurious should receive campaign reporting data from inMarket showing time spent viewing an offer, impact on purchase intent and awareness, and other metrics.
Condé already is steeped in mobile recipe and shopping-list data. The company acquired shopping-list app firm ZipList in 2012. The technology serves as the backend platform for recipe storage and list tools on 700 different food sites including Chow and Simply Recipes. However, at this stage, Condé is not connecting data from that broad universe of grocery lists and food interests to information gleaned through inMarket, said Ms. Kremins.
Considering the two-year-old ZipList acquisition, might a future purchase of inMarket or a similar in-store tracking firm be in the cards for Condé? "No comment," said Ms. Kremins, adding, "We're always looking for smart acquisitions."