iBeacons Can Change Retail Forever

Today on Down To Business we chatted about a simple little device, costing around €25. There’s not much inside, they’re not that smart and they’re a modest price but these little pieces of plastic could change the way we spend our money, and our time forever. You can use the information advertised by beacons to enhance the user’s experience of a particular location. For example, a museum app can monitor for beacons placed near the museum’s important exhibits.

“You can use the information advertised by beacons to enhance the user’s experience of a particular location. For example, a museum app can monitor for beacons placed near the museum’s important exhibits. As a user approaches a particular exhibit, the app can use the relative distance of the beacon as a cue to provide more information about that exhibit rather than another.” developer.apple.com
Apple announced iBeacon as a feature of iOS 7 last June at their World-Wide Developers Conference and it wasn’t long before sharp developers started putting the technology to work for clever, but mostly experimental projects. It was Apple’s announcement in December that they had installed iBeacons in all of their own retail stores that really ignited the interest of retailers; as the most profitable by square-foot retailer in the world, if Apple are doing something in their own stores, it’s worth looking at closely and venue operators quickly followed the retailers, as last month Major League Baseball announced an initial two stadiums as part of a plan to install iBeacons in MLB stadiums across the US.

How iBeacons work

iBeacon sensors use Bluetooth technology to tell, within inches how close a smart-phone is to a beacon. Distance is important, as within a store you might have different ‘regions’. So, whereas facial or gender recognition technology is useful for retailers to know that a man or woman with children just walked through the door, with iBeacons the retailer can know that a customer walked in ten minutes ago, didn’t stop on the fresh fruit aisle but has been standing in front of the Weight-Watchers aisle for the last seven minutes.

The iBeacon sensors are compatible with iOS and to a lesser extent, Android phones. Using iBeacons doesn’t cost anything but if you want to deploy them in a shop or venue, you’ll need some of the physical beacons, and an App or one of the growing number of management systems, mostly cloud based that allow you to set up in-store campaigns, calls-to-action and customer messages so you can interact with customers. An iBeacon device costs around $30, there are 5 for 6 quality manufacturers so far, including the Krakow based start-up, Estimote who raised over $3 Million on Kickstarter: in a single-story shop or cafe you’ll probably need 3 or 4 devices. If you’re running a mid-sized restaurant or high-street shop you might use 10 or 12 devices.  The technology sounds straightforward, but the potential for disruption to the retail and hospitality industries is immense – seldom does such an accessible technology come along that can transform how we shop, travel and spend our leisure time. Payments and ticketing are functions that iBeacons are likely to help with – but right now, retail and leisure are the industries scrambling to get the most out of iBeacons.

This technology isn’t just about large retailing getting better and terrifyingly targeted, this technology gives small retailers and niche-venue owners the chance to improve their customer experience also. Even if it’s as simple as welcome back message on an in-store screen, customers like to feel special, and now there’s no excuse.

So what are the things you can do with iBeacons? – well, imagine:

  • You walk in to a home-entertainment store, and because you’ve stood in front of the same TV every Saturday for a month, the store send a 10% off offer to your phone, they know you like that TV set, but you need a nudge, and 10% just might do it.
  • maybe you’ve been queueing for too long at the supermarket checkout and your phone bleeps to tell you, “We’re sorry, we don’t like it when you have to wait. Use this QR code in the cafe, get yourself a Latte on us, and come back next week for your groceries and scan this code for 5% of your bill at the check-out. We’ll have more check-outs open next week.”
  • you walk up to The Annunciation at the Reubens House Museum in Antwerp, already an iBeacons user, and displayed instantly on your tablet is the history and narrative of the iconic picture before you. While you’re listening to the audio tour in your language, maybe one of your children clicks the kid-friendly ‘Improve’ button on their phone and an edit menu pops up and the kids can paint some additions in to the painting that’s displayed on their device,. They then click share and today’s funky improvements are displayed on the large screen in the entrance foyer; a new batch get shown when you leave the building.
  • I expect we’ll see significant investment from large retail chains who can leverage their loyalty card data to improve the in-store experience; combining loyalty data with real-time events like weather, traffic and calendar events will allow retailers and venue operators to give customers an experience that won’t be forgotten, fostering even more brand loyalty.
On January 6 2014, inMarket rolled out iBeacons in 150+ grocery stores in Seattle, San Francisco & Cleveland
In February 2014, Estimote whose products are built on Apple's iBeacon technology announced a proximity information implementation in the Reubens House Museum in Antwerp
On December 6 2013, Apple confirmed it had deployed iBeacons in all of its 254 US retail stores
  1. Major League Baseball announce iBeacon installation : redcert.com
  2. iBeacon: Wikipedia definition
  3. How iBeacons could change the world foreverWashington Post
  4. Apple guides shoppers in-store : Wall Street Journal
  5. Down To Business with Bobby Kerr : Newstalk Podcast 15-March-2013
  6. Swedish Instaward & iBeacons for retailers

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