France 44, the liquor and cheese store on the line where Minneapolis meets Edina, is jumping to the edge of shopping technology with help from a new company started by former Target Corp. techies.
The store is now testing a system of marketing software and "digital beacons" that will help customers find deals via a smartphone app that receives ads that are customized to the person's location in the store.
In turn, the store will pick up information on how customers shop.
"This is an opportunity for us to have almost a digital salesperson," owner Rick Anderson said. "It's a great way for us to deliver additional value to our customers on items they may not know about."
The system is designed by Opnia, a year-old digital advertising company started by three men who met while working on Target's Cartwheel app.
Its social media marketing software — called Advos, a name formed from the Latin words for "to" and "you" — is designed to provide analytic insight for businesses and a personalized shopping experience for retail consumers.
Advos can push advertisements to shoppers' phones through a store's app, based on location. It can also be used by customers to pull information onto their mobile device.
France 44 managers will focus on providing information when customers request it rather than shooting out ads and notices.
"There's so much noise in any kind of marketing," Anderson said. "People just keep getting inundated … and most of these things, people aren't really interested in."
Advos creators say they've found a solution to the information overload. Their software uses each customer's personal mobile advertising ID, social media data and current location to determine which advertisements might best fit their preferences. That way, "noise" becomes interesting, relevant information, they say.
The founders stressed that the monitoring aspect of the software can be controlled by consumers. They can delete their mobile ad ID, essentially rendering them anonymous.
"We think … that if you can make messaging more targeted to an individual, it's more meaningful," said Opnia co-founder Brook Oldre. "It's a better experience for that individual."
Oldre met the other co-founders, Brett Loney and Brandon Johnson, when the three men worked together on Target's Cartwheel app, which provides discounts for customers. While analyzing the app, they said they noticed shoppers overwhelmingly use it while they're in a Target store, rather than at home or work planning a shopping trip. They designed Advos to be most useful during the shopping experience.
Although the concept may seem simple, the logistics of tracking people as they move about a space are somewhat complex.
Aaron Fritz, a data analyst for Opnia, spent six hours helping Oldre install and place the approximately 50 beacons that now sit in France 44. Store owner Anderson mapped the zone he wanted each tool to cover.
"They're hard to notice," Fritz said. "I had a hard time finding them myself, even though I placed them."
Hidden securely in boxes under the shelving, the beacons send out an ID signal that mobile phones can recognize.
For Anderson, knowing how his customers are traveling the store and giving them more information about their interests will both help them and keep them coming back.
"It's intended to enhance the experience," he said. "For us, the experience is everything."
Tyler Gieseke is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.