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AT&T Launches Location-based ‘ShopAlerts’

March 1, 2011

AT&T Inc. said on Monday that it will use the location-sensing ability of its mobile phones to target text ads with coupons and other offers to a select group of customers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

The new feature, dubbed “ShopAlerts by AT&T”, is a first for a wireless carrier, and will provide location-based alerts with nearby discounts to participating subscribers who sign up for the service.

Kmart is one of the retail chains that have signed up for the program, meaning AT&T could send discount offers to subscribers who are near a Kmart store.

JetBlue Airways Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., SC Johnson, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Nature’s Recipe and the “Got Milk?” campaign are also participating in the program.

“We expect to add more brands over the coming months as the program grows,” said Placecast, with whom AT&T is partnering to provide the service.

“Our partnership combines the Placecast technology platform with the location-based experience we’ve gained from both our trial and commercial programs with AT&T’s customer base, its network, and AT&T’s strong relationships with brands and agencies,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Since AT&T is only able to pinpoint subscribers to within a mile or so, its ability to detect that customers are receptive to “ShopAlerts” is limited.

The service locates subscribers based on which cell towers communicate with their mobile phones, rather than using the more accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) chips included in many phones.   This way, ShopAlerts can work with any cell phone, not just smart phones running third-party applications.

AT&T subscribers who choose to receive the ads must sign up for the program on the carrier’s Web site.   However, at least for now, they will not be able to choose what type of offers they will receive, AT&T said.  Subscribers will receive no more than four messages per week.

The ability to send ads to mobile phones based on subscriber location has long been a goal of retailers.  However, the technology has been slow to materialize.   For instance, tapping into the GPS chips of phones is often difficult because it drains precious battery life.

But some companies that provide location-based applications do sell ads.  One firm, Shopkick Inc., announced a program in August with major retailers such as Macy’s Inc. and Best Buy Inc. that provides subscribers with coupons when they “check in” to a store by launching an app on their smart phone, which senses a short-range inaudible signal unique to each store.

Customers who want to sign up for AT&T’s ShopAlerts service can do so by visiting att.com/shopalerts or by texting the word “JOIN” to 28833257. AT&T said there is no charge for ShopAlerts, though text and data rates apply. Subscribers can quit the service at any time by replying to any alert with the words “quit”, “stop”, “end”, “cancel”, or “unsubscribe”.

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