Picture this, Dear Shopper: you're power-walking through the mall on Black Friday, on a mission to find that [Elsa doll, smartwatch, pair of Air Jordans-insert your own list here]. And then your phone buzzes with an app alert from the retail location around the corner, offering 15% off your total purchase. #perfecttiming?

For marketers, triggering interactions like this at exactly the right time and place is all about creating contextual mobile experiences in the customer journey. It's not a holiday miracle. It's the power of geolocation, or location-based mobile marketing.

How does it work? Let's take a look at two different scenarios that could be at play:

1) The retailer is using a beacon, an indoor positioning system that uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to sense and trigger messages to Bluetooth-enabled phones. In order for this to happen, the consumer's device must meet these three criteria:

  • Bluetooth turned on
  • The retailer's app installed
  • Location permissions and push permissions turned on for that retail app

2) The retailer is using a geofence to trigger notifications to an app within a targeted geographic range. In order for this to work, the consumer's device must meet these criteria:

  • The retail app installed
  • Location permissions and push permissions turned on for that retail app

In both scenarios, the retailer would use a push messaging solution (like MobilePush) to actually create and send the notification to the consumer's device.

While timely geolocation notifications seem super helpful to the would-be shopper, the vast majority of retailers aren't quite there yet when it comes to delivering this sort of personalized, place-based experience. At the Mobile Marketing Association Forum in New York this year, it was cited that only .09% of nationwide retailers are using in-store location technology. Surprisingly, only 18% of marketers surveyed in the 2014 State of Marketing were using push notifications as part of their marketing mix (29% planned to use in 2014, 53% did not).

"This technology is still in the early stages, resulting in low large-scale adoption," says Salesforce's Director of Mobile Products Doug Wilson. "It has the potential to be very disruptive in a positive or negative way, depending on how it's done, so businesses are interested but cautious."

These stats are in sharp contrast to the consumer interest that's surfacing. From our 2014 Mobile Behavior Report, we know that 76% of users agree that location sharing provides more meaningful content, and 73% believe that location sharing is somewhat or very useful. Among smartphone and tablet owners, 79% have allowed location sharing when using an app and 70% allowed push notifications.

Why does this matter even more when Black Friday rolls around? Google's Shopper Marketing Council further proved what we already know about how consumers are using smartphones on the go:

  • 53% to make price comparisons while in-store
  • 39% to find promotional offers
  • 36% to find location/directions

When customers walk through your doors on Black Friday, there's nothing stopping them from showrooming from their smartphones. But if you can counter that behavior with a well-timed geo-targeted push message, it shows you're paying attention to their journey as an individual customer.

Wilson notes that many businesses are still working on getting the basics in place with mobile apps, and while most aren't ready to tackle geolocation, they are thinking ahead and planning for it. "Geolocation technology should be viewed as just one part of the overall customer journey with the brand, and the mobile app, and it needs to be incorporated into a seamless experience for customers."