Mobile Proximity Messaging Best Practices

The success of any mobile proximity campaign is highly dependent on user engagement. Messaging that doesn't motivate a user to take action is a wasted impression and will effect your results negatively. ShopAdvisor has run several national proximity campaigns as well as many more smaller, regional ones. In this post, we will outline some messaging best practices and share some interesting metrics from ShopAdvisor client campaigns.

Common Terminology

For those of you who have run or studied proximity campaigns, many of the terms in this post will be familiar to you. ShopAdvisor uses both industry standard terms as well as our own terminology to refer to some of our methods and practices. For clarity, I have outlined several of these terms below. This will enable readers who are new to mobile proximity to follow along, and will resonate with readers who are well versed in the subject.

  • Store Visit Rate (SVR): The store visit rate refers to the percentage of users who visited a store after being messaged. This metric often consolidates multiple messages to unique users, meaning that a user who was messaged three times would only be counted once in the denominator.
  • Store Visitation Lift (SVL): This refers to the amount of increased foot traffic in a given store versus its typical traffic volume.
  • Cost Per Visit (CPV): The total cost of a mobile proximity campaign divided by the number of store visitors influenced by that campaign.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The click-through rate refers to the percentage of users who receive a mobile notification and interact with it. ShopAdvisor includes this in our message interactions metric.
  • Message Interaction: This refers to users interacting with a notification. Depending on the user experience, there may be multiple ways in which a user can interact (e.g., within the ShopAdvisor app "Message Center"). ShopAdvisor measures all user engagement with notifications sent and counts those as message interactions.
  • Post Click Rate (PCR): The post click rate refers to the rate at which users who open a shopping experience (CTR) continue to interact. For example, a user who opens a push notification and then clicks on a product for more detail.
  • Geo-fence: A geo-fence is a virtual barrier that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) to define geographical boundaries. Users entering and exiting these virtual barriers can trigger notifications based on user preferences and other factors. Geo-fences range in size from as small as 300 feet in diameter to as large as several miles wide.
  • BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Beacon: A beacon is a small device about half the size of a credit card that broadcasts a low energy Bluetooth signal. Smartphones within range (typically 30 to 75 feet) and configured to listen to that signal can trigger notifications based on user preferences and other factors.
  • Shopping Experience: ShopAdvisor creates native content experiences, which include product catalogs, store locators, videos, special offers, and other mobile content that reinforces the goal of the campaign. Users are directed to these experiences after engaging with a notification.
  • Drive-to-Store Campaigns: Drive-to-store campaigns target users in proximity to a retail location, typically using geo-fences, with the focus of messaging to encourage a store visit.
  • In-Store Campaigns: In-store campaigns use micro-proximity -- placing one or more BLE beacons strategically within the store -- to engage users within a retail location.

Defining Best Practices

We made a lot of assumptions when ShopAdvisor first started running mobile proximity campaigns. There were few resources available to help us set a baseline for our campaign messaging strategies, so we experimented a lot. We found a number of approaches that worked really well for both our drive-to-store and in-store campaigns. We also tried several strategies that didn't work well at all. This gave us plenty of data to help us design the right strategies when implementing new campaigns.

Having a baseline (as well as a few years of experience) can dramatically reduce wasted inventory and time when running mobile proximity campaigns. Given the fact that success is based upon compelling a user to engage when they are within a very small geographic region, getting your messaging right is essential. Below are the top 5 best practices we've learned to give you an idea of what worked for our clients and how you might apply them to create more engaging experiences for your customers.

1. Tell them the store location

You have very limited space in a push notification. On iOS, for example, you have about 107 characters to work with before your message gets truncated with an ellipsis. This means that your message must be short and to the point, but it also must be compelling. One strategy we've found that works well for drive-to-store messaging is to compel the user with proximity. This means that when a user reads the message, they should immediately recognize that the notification is related to something close to their current location. This can be very effective at grabbing the user's attention.


"There's a great offer for you at Levi's on 34th Street."

"Check out Vince Camuto's new fall collection at our Grand Central Station store."

"Barnes & Noble has some great deals for you at the Short Hills Mall."

These examples all reference a specific store location or shopping area that should be familiar to the user. If the user is a block or two away from Grand Central Station, or they are within a mile or so of the Short Hills Mall, they will immediately associate their current location with the one mentioned in your message. This doesn't necessarily mean the user will visit the store location immediately (messaging timing is another subject altogether), but it does dramatically increase the likelihood that a user will engage with that message.


ShopAdvisor has repeatedly tested the effects of referencing store location and has consistently found a 175% uptick in message interaction and an increase in SVR (store visit rate) of nearly 100%. Using a more generic reference message, such as, "Check out this week's deals at your local Walgreens," not only reduces message interaction, but fails to compel users to visit the store.

2. Use hyper-local references

Another drive-to-store strategy that has worked really well is to use references to neighborhoods, districts, or other commonly known landmarks to help users realize their proximity to the store. This is similar to mentioning a store location, but it carries an extra sense of familiarity with the area that users will immediately recognize and appreciate.


"It's your lucky day! A great deal is waiting in SOHO for you from ELLE and Guess."

"Stop by the Sprint store in the South Loop and get 50% off your bill from Sprint."

"You just walked by a great Levi's deal in Herald Square."

These examples all mention areas that are familiar to residents as well to their daily visitors. Through split-testing and direct user feedback, we've found that this type of hyper-localization creates a strong connection with your target audience. Users, and especially residents in these areas, will identify with the reference and be compelled to see what is happening in their neighborhood.


ShopAdvisor campaigns have found that neighborhood and district references increases the message interaction rate of residents (those seen multiple times over multiple days) by more than 350%. Non-residents still have a marked increase of more than 200% in message interaction as compared to generic messages. Both residents and non-residents see an average increase in SVR (store visit rate) of approximately 500%, with residents creating unprompted repeat store visits of more than 18% on average.

3. Mention specific (preferably targeted) categories and brands

While shoes remains one of the most popular categories across ShopAdvisor's high fashion user segment, we've found that mentioning specific categories or brands in messaging helps increase user interaction and open rates. This type of messaging has proven effective in both drive-to-store and in-store campaigns. The key to this strategy is effective and accurate user segmentation. Understanding users' category and brand affinities allows the messaging system to tailor each notification so that it appeals to both their current interests as well as their underlying shopping behavior.


"Nine West has got some great shoes for you! Head over to Faneuil Hall and check them out!"

"Welcome to Macy's. Visit the L'Oréal counter and get your free gift!"

"Great deals on Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, and more at Foot Locker near the food court."

When you mention a specific category or brand that the user is in market for, the user is highly compelled to give the message a thoughtful look. Category references plus brand references also work really well. For example, by coordinating both the preferred retailer (brand) and a compelling category, your chance of catching the user's interest is dramatically increased. It is important to understand that untargeted references, such as mentioning shoes to everyone, can have a negative impact on successive open rates. Specific messaging works well when done correctly, but without advanced targeting capabilities, more general messaging should be used.


ShopAdvisor has had a tremendous success with this strategy because of the accuracy of our Shopper Purchase Intent Profiles. By targeting specific user affinities and preferences, tailored messaging has shown SVRs (store visit rates) of more than 60% for some campaigns. In general, more broadly targeted category and brand references have showed an average increase in message interaction of more than 325%. In-store message interaction jumped by nearly 200% for larger department stores with specific brand references.

4. Reference compelling offers (with extreme caution)

Mobile couponing saw a significant rise in popularity several years ago, but demand has since waned due to mass messaging tactics and generic offer overload. However, a relevant, compelling offer, delivered at the right time, can still create significant uplift in CTRs (click-through rates) and SVRs (store visit rates). I can't stress enough how essential proper targeting is, as sending one-size-fits-all offers is sure to turn off your users and encourage them to disable your alerts or delete your application altogether. You should strive to make your offers unique and exclusive, otherwise the user may feel as though you are simply recycling generic messaging and taking advantage of the special permissions they've given you.


"ELLE's fall favorites are at Vince Camuto! Stop by for $25 off NOW!"

"20% off your next purchase at Levi's."

"Two pairs are better than one. #BOGO at the DSW in Webster Square."

The previous examples will most likely only be compelling to the right user. This is why targeting is so important. Users with high fashion or Vince Camuto affinities will most likely interact with the first example. However, many user segments would simply recognize this as SPAM, and as a result, likely block all further communications. It's not atypical for marketers to think that their offers will be compelling to a large swath of the population, but it's important to realize that mobile messaging is a science, and broad based messaging tactics simply will not work. It is not worth losing trust with your audience for the sake of simply increasing impressions.


ShopAdvisor has found targeted offers to be one of the most effective ways to increase the SVR (store visit rate). It is important to note, however, that early on with our experimentation we received several complaints when we tried to broadly distribute some offers. Once we figured this out, we saw some of our largest SVRs for any of our campaigns, including a 66% SVR for users that matched the campaign profile with a confidence rating of 85% or higher.

5. Leverage third-party endorsements

Finally, third-party endorsements that resonate with your audience are a great way to craft effective and compelling mobile messaging. ShopAdvisor has relationships with power publishers such as Time Inc., Hearst, Conde Nast, and others. Leveraging their magazine titles' endorsements has proven to be a very effective way to motivate users to act. For many people, these publications represent tastemakers and trusted authorities for everything from automobiles to zebra-print dresses. Referencing these endorsements in your notifications can heighten brand recognition and significantly increase message interaction.


"ELLE's fall favorites are at Vince Camuto! Stop by for $25 off NOW!"

"Check out StyleWatch's Sizzling Summer Picks, exclusively at the Gap."

"ESTÉE LAUDER and Cosmopolitan have a great offer for you at the Herald Square Macy's"

These examples all use the magazine's endorsements to encourage a store visit. ELLE is known for fashion; StyleWatch is known for celebrity looks at everyday prices; and Cosmopolitan is a resource for style, personal advice, beauty tips and more. By having these tastemakers and trendsetters recommend a collection of items, a user who trusts these third-parties is much more likely to engage and subsequently visit the retail location.


ShopAdvisor has run a number of campaigns in partnership with power publishers, most notably our ELLE ShopNow! program. That program saw open rates (CTRs) that were 17x the industry benchmarks and SVRs (store visit rates) that were 71x industry benchmarks. If you'd like more information about this campaign, please contact us.

Test, test, and test again

While I've outlined a number of best practices for mobile proximity messaging in this post, it is necessary to call out the most important best practice separately. That is simply to test, test, and test again. Mobile users who have given you permission to message them have entrusted you with a huge responsibility. Mobile audiences are fickle, and rightly so. A mobile phone is an extremely personal device that is with its owner constantly. Abusing that trust is a guaranteed way to lose the ability to message that user and rack up some bad reviews in the process.

I suggest you run several small tests as often as you can. Monitor the behavior of users who enter and exit your campaign geo-fences and note the ones who enter the retail stores before you start sending messages. Run tests on small samples of your user segments to ensure that users are responding as anticipated. Encourage user feedback and provide ways for them to opt out of similar future messages. This will allow you (even if through trial and error) to find the right combination of these strategies for messaging and targeting to maximize the effectiveness of your proximity campaign.

Putting it all together

In this post, I've reviewed some common terminology for mobile proximity campaigns and discussed several best practices for messaging your users. I've also stressed the importance of split-testing your messaging to find the right mix and combination of these strategies for your target audience. As you've no doubt noticed, there is a lot that goes into campaigns such as these. However, having a series of strategies and clearly defining your success factors with help dramatically in both planning and execution.

I hope that you've found this information helpful. I'd encourage you to use this as a baseline and build your own best practices and strategies as you gain experience by running more of these yourself.