iBeacons are the future of retail

As more iBeacons are installed around the UK, the big question is; is your business planning to use iBeacons or are you going to be left behind?

The technology
Looking at the technology, in short an iBeacon is an advanced location transmitter that has the potential to revolutionize the retail experience by incorporating alerts for deals and mobile payments for customers, while also providing big data analytics for businesses. With the move towards personalising the customer experience there is a growing demand for customer data.

This is all made easier because Bluetooth 4.0 does not require devices to be paired. They utilize Bluetooth Low Energy, a new variant of Bluetooth technology that allows two-way communication between devices using a triangular pattern over shorter distances.

This way, businesses can set up the iBeacon transmitters that have signals up to 500 feet away without Wi-Fi, GPS, or 3G/4G, and use much less energy to do it. The closer your smartphone is to the transmitter, the more it knows about your exact location and what you’re looking at.

iBeacons are essentially ‘GPS for indoors’, which allow for personalised, micro-location –based notifications and alerts. They’re the Apple-branded version of an existing technology – Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons and is already supported by the majority of recent Android handsets. Currently, they’re one of the more exciting technologies to hit consumer retail in the last few years, and there’s fantastic potential to use them in clever and creative ways to drive in-store commerce.

Companies want iBeacons for the big data
Businesses and retailers now have a direct way to find out what customers are doing, and can pinpoint exactly where in the store they are doing it. Think of the opportunity for big data because a company can find out your micro location. This includes what you’re looking at, how long you’re looking at it, and maybe what you decided to buy at the last second instead. Therefore they can send you personalized messages and deals when you enter the store so you will have a better idea of what to buy and / or can utilize coupons or other deals more effectively.

iBeacons are being integrated into LED lights
Some LED lights now have Bluetooth LE for iBeacon functionality, Walmart for example are planning to use these. Now, retailers can cut costs with these lower-energy lights and won’t have to buy standalone beacons.

Android can access iBeacons, but without interactive capabilities
If a retailer creates an Android app, Android users can access the iBeacon platform, although it’s only for Android 4.3 or higher. However a special SDK must be downloaded by Android users to access the notifications and interactivity with iBeacon.

iBeacons offer shoppers a more streamlined experience
For the consumer experience, iBeacon is more about proximity, more than location. Using iBeacon, customers can, receive coupons and other discounts in real time, depending on where they are in a store. Plus if you open a store app that utilizes iBeacon, you can receive directions to an aisle you need to get to in the grocery, or receive coupons as you walk through the store.

Privacy concerns with iBeacons
Although Apple said the iBeacon is simply a location tool and doesn’t gather excessive data or track users (it sends out a signal but doesn’t receive information) there is little doubt that privacy remains a concern that consumers and retailers will have to confront.

1) They are using an open standard (Well almost)
Apple have nearly embraced an open standard with iBeacons, so it is possible for manufacturers and system integrators to create beacons which can support both iOS and Android/Windows devices at the same time. This means retailers can be comfortable that however they choose to implement beacons, they will have the potential to serve the majority of their customers without any major complications.

2) They are cheap and low-maintenance
The total cost of ownership is so low, less than £15 per iBeacon so can be considered disposable. The ‘Low Energy’ part of BLE is important and they can run for up to two years on a single coin battery, which greatly reduces the maintenance overhead for retail operations teams, for example, swapping in a new beacon is like changing a light bulb in terms of effort and expense.

3) They enable accurate indoor location
Accurately locating customers indoors by creating a mesh of beacons and using triangulation, shopping centres, large stores or even public spaces can provide their customers directions and accurate location based information.

4) They’re passive, not active
IBeacons require no effort on the user’s part – the information can just appear before them for example exclusive offers while they’re outside the store, perhaps tempting then in when they would have otherwise walked straight past.

5) They’re great for customer identification and data collection
Passive detection means beacons are a terrific way for store teams to easily identify specific customers and quickly link them with their digital activity. This allows a range of customer service benefits and a real opportunity to exceed customer expectations. They could silently detect and verify a click and collect customer as soon as they enter the store, and prompt the store tem to prepare the customer items. Or direct a customer straight to everything in their online wish list. They are also great for data collection – a beacon placed at the store’s entrance could easily tell you how many customers are coming in and what smartphone they have, for example.

It’s clear that iBeacons will play a significant role in retailers’ ongoing efforts to provide ever-more personalised and seamless customer experiences. All retailers who have ambitions to become an Omni Channel retailers must embrace this technology.

Posted in Business, Retail

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