StepsAway Solves The “Beacon Problem” For In-Mall Retailers And Shoppers

Mobile Web-based experience doesn’t require app downloads.


Earlier this month, Target announced a 50-store beacon rollout. This is a big deal; retailers have been testing and flirting with beacons and indoor location for two years, and this is probably the biggest announcement to date.

Yet beacons are only one technology and aren’t a complete indoor marketing solution. I’m a big proponent of beacons, but they only work for some of the people some of the time. That’s because in order for beacons to deliver content or marketing messages to in-store/indoor shoppers, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The consumer needs to have the relevant retail app installed
  2. Bluetooth (the underlying technology) must be turned on
  3. The consumer must allow app notifications

If all of these conditions exist, then the retailer or other entity (e.g., airports) can communicate with the smartphone owner. Yet right now, most retailer apps offer a poor user experience and aren’t widely installed. Target may be one of a few exceptions in the US market.

Furthermore, as I wrote (August 12, 2015), a Forrester Research survey of retailers earlier this year indicated they were moving away from apps in their mobile strategies because of the challenges of driving consumer app adoption and retention.

Apps and beacons are one (potentially powerful) piece of a larger mobile marketing strategy for retailers. A company called StepsAway offers a different, complementary approach to reach broader audiences of shoppers in US malls.

StepsAway doesn’t rely on beacons or apps but uses guest WiFi networks in malls to send promotional content through a mobile Web-based shopping portal. The company currently operates in 16 malls, including Park Meadows Mall (Denver, CO), International Plaza (Tampa, FL) and Stamford Town Center (Stamford, CT), among others. CEO Allan Haims (a MarketingLand contributor) says StepsAway will be in 30 malls by year’s end and 100 malls next year.

Users who sign on to guest WiFi networks in participating malls are redirected to the browser-based portal, which presents content and offers from retailers in that mall. Interestingly, it only works for people in the mall; there’s no “remote” experience. People can’t use the StepsAway portal at home or even nearby.

Haims says that StepsAway shoppers are viewing between 500 and 1,000 offers per retailer every day (per mall). Those views are being generated by more than 100,000 shoppers signing on to StepsAway via guest WiFi per month.

Haims explained that there are generally two types of content or offers being distributed through the various mall portals: those seeking to bring people into stores and those that are promoting merchandise within stores. He likens the latter to virtual “windows” that serve a similar function as store window displays but can go much deeper into inventory than physical windows.

Retailers can provide different content to different mall locations or deliver flash sales (in real time) to shoppers for specific stores. The website can be browsed or searched, making it more of a “pull” than a “push” experience. Haims told me that the redemption range for offers delivered via the in-mall portals is between 7 percent and 25 percent.

StepsAway is unique (I believe) in its approach to indoor marketing for retailers in malls. What’s also interesting and worth noting is that StepsAway doesn’t really need to market itself because the shopping portal automatically shows up after a log-in to guest WiFi.

StepsAway shouldn’t be seen a s replacement for retailer apps — apps are for the most loyal segment of a retailer’s audience and can serve a range of functions beyond delivering offers. But it can reach broader audiences that might not download a retailer app, or it can communicate with audiences that don’t have retailer apps on their phones.

It’s also way to reach shoppers when they’re not in stores, at the other end of a mall.

(Some images used under license from