Bradley Robbins is a tech, trade, and travel writer with a lifetime of experience with North America, Europe, and Japan.
In the past week, my phone immediately pinged me a greeting upon entering two of my favorite local stores. This intrigued me, as I normally keep location and Wi-Fi off on the old Samsung Galaxy S5 to save the battery charge. I’ve got a wireless headset, though, and I’ve been known to don a Fitbit on occasion. The messages weren’t from my devices; they were from the store owners.
My techy side got curious, and I decided to investigate this a bit further to see what was going on. I found a few ways that marketers can get ahold of you even if your phone isn’t connected all the ways it could be.
The most obvious culprit seemed to be SMS messaging. I get text ads all the time from the local radio station, two pizza places, and occasionally a steakhouse. SMS messaging is the service that delivers same text messages as when a friend tries to find you at the mall. Usually, you have to opt in to messaging for commercial locations. I hadn’t done so at either of these stores.
I decided that, unless this was an SMS messaging error, I could safely rule it out. I use Samsung’s Messenger+ app, and it’s never gotten stuck in the past. The more I thought about it, the less likely that SMS messaging seemed to be the culprit. But the messages did appear in the same notifications space as when I get messages from apps, so that provided a lead.
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I have quite a few apps on my phone that let me know what’s going on. Many of them improve performance, and some let me quickly chat with my writer and editor colleagues. I get messages from Google when the weather changes, when traffic gets bad in my area and when my prescriptions are available at the local pharmacy.
I didn’t have to opt into each of these. Many of them had notifications on by default. Google, the supreme overlord of all things Android, only had to ask my permission once for all of its apps to become the guardian angel of my day. Still, my friendly local gaming store and the barber bar where I get my hair cut (and a pint while I wait) don’t have apps for my phone. I checked. One more easy possibility shot down. It didn’t seem like any sort of phishing attempt, either, but maybe I was missing something.
A quick look through my phone’s settings confirmed the only other thing I had enabled was emergency alerts. Okay, I thought, now I’m just getting silly. This wasn’t an Amber Alert or a storm notification. Still, I had to rule it out, so I decided to give in and go down to the store. One manager joked that maybe the alerts were emergency situations and state law said he could hold me under suspicion. He admitted that he didn’t know why I got the message every time I came by now and said to check with the store owner, a long-time Facebook friend.
I later looked up that law, by the way, and unless he meant holding me for suspicion of shoplifting, I think I was in the clear. The law protects the consumer as much as it does the not-quite-tech-savvy manager, for which I am eternally grateful. The manager of the second location had all the answers I needed, though.
The answer turned out to be Bluetooth beacons. The bar-ber shop, to coin a term, had recently installed a set at the entrances to the beardsmithing area and the bar itself. They’re apparently a new marketing tool that just beams the message right over, using the same set of frequencies as my wireless headphones. The beacon only operates over a small range, so it pings everyone near the doorway who has a compatible device. The manager noted he could also give discounts, promote events, and even alert customers of potential danger using the devices. So I guess the emergency alert idea wasn’t too far-fetched.
Along with the insight about new marketing technology, and a chance to read up on retail shop law, I got a free pint of a local microbrew from a slightly apologetic bar-ber-tender (I’m going to have to keep working on that term). Not bad considering it all started with an insatiable itch to know how my tech worked and a trip to two of my favorite haunts.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.