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    Watching the Apple Watch

    Marsh readies iBeacon tech for the much-anticipated release

    By John Karolefski

    The biggest tech news lately has been the debut of the much-ballyhooed Apple Watch. I’m not sure regular folks have been clamoring for convenient wearable technology, but it's here. What are we to make of it?

    The Apple Watch is a smartwatch developed by Apple Inc. It can receive and send phone calls and texts, and run third-party apps. It's expected to work with Apple Pay, the mobile payment service, and is compatible with the latest versions of iPhone. Other features include fitness tracking and health-oriented capabilities such as a heart rate sensor.

    There are some practical advantages for tasks that people rely on a smartphone for; that is, checking the time, weather, local news and sports scores, and playing favorite tunes. But instead of having to reach into a pocket or purse to retrieve a smartphone for these tasks, on-the-go consumers could just glance at their wristwatch. The price tag for this everyday convenience ranges from $299 to $13,500.

    There are other suppliers of smartwatches, but Apple’s entry and expected marketing blitz will raise consumer awareness of the category. The smartwatch market will grow from 3.6 million unit shipments in 2014, to 101 million shipments in 2020 according to a new report released by IHS Inc., a global provider of critical information and insight.

    Aside from making repeatable tasks more efficient (reaching into a pocket or purse for a smartphone is such a time-waster), the Apple Watch supposedly will change the way people buy goods by streamlining the shopping experience. Apple’s iBeacons, which already work with the iPhone, send out location-based signals to track where shoppers are in the store. They could alert shoppers to a promotion for a product purchased in the past when strolling near that item.  

    Grocery is probably not the prime retail channel to take advantage of a smartwatch’s capabilities. So should grocers prepare for this new era of shopping that the Apple Watch will usher in? At least one is. Marsh Supermarkets is extending the iBeacon experience beyond smartphones to the Apple Watch. The chain of 60 stores in the Midwest calls it the world’s first iBeacon-wearable integration at retail. The idea is to increase sales via personalized shopper engagements. For example, people might be reminded to check their shopping list app when arriving at the store, or to look for a certain obscure ingredient for a recipe they researched online last week.

    Sounds impressive, and I wish Marsh good luck with it. Whether this new digital experience is viable for other food retailers remains to be seen. It obviously depends on having the cash to invest in the technology and, more importantly, having a critical mass of shoppers wearing a smartwatch when shopping.

    I don’t own an Apple Watch, so I don’t have any personal experience to share. But I look forward to making a tech fashion statement in a digitized supermarket one day by sporting this latest wearable technology while food shopping. I’ll let you know how it goes.     

    By John Karolefski
    • About John Karolefski John Karolefski is a veteran business journalist with 25 years of experience covering CPG, retail and technology. Over the years, he has edited several trade publications and is the co-author of three books: "TARGET 2000: the Rising Tide of TechnoMarketing," "All about Sampling and Demonstrations," and "Consumer-Centric Category Management." He has appeared on CNN, CBS Radio and BBC Radio to discuss marketing issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

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