Can iBeacons redefine the retail experience?


iBeacons-foto1Beacon technology, otherwise known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), has been heralded as an innovative approach to increasing footfall for retailers. The idea is fairly simple – retailers can send relevant content via push notifications into their app, based on the real-time location of their consumers.

When Apple launched the iBeacon feature as part of its iOS7 release, the world was intrigued and many leading retailers at the digital forefront were eager to become part of this potentially new shift in the industry.


How do beacons/BLE work?

The concept of proximity target is not new. GPS tracking and NFC (Near Field Communications) have been present in the mobile industry for some time now. So what sets BLE apart? Many brands and consumers assumed that Bluetooth was a redundant technology given the prevalence of Wi-Fi. However the latest iteration, Bluetooth 4.0, only consumes a fraction of a smartphone’s battery compared to earlier counterparts. In layman’s terms, this means that content can now be pushed straight onto a user’s device while they are in a 100 foot proximity to a beacon. This can encourage footfall and interaction while consumers are outside a store, inside a store, or at any other relevant location or event.

What can beacons do?

Its early days for the technology but existing activity from leading retailers has included:

  • Macy’s – “iBeacon can push special offers and recommendations to customers, and because of Bluetooth’s limited range, the app can detect the specific floor or department a customer is in, allowing the store to tailor alerts”.
  • American Eagle Outfitters – “shoppers will get a welcome message when they enter an American Eagle Outfitters, with details of location-specific rewards, deals, discounts and product recommendations in the store. Products that a customer tags when not in the store will also get reminders to search for those items when entering the store.”
  • Apple – “When you stroll past the iPhone table, the app can detect your upgrade status and price out a newer model or inform you if an order is ready to be picked up”.
  • Safeway – “a consumer might get a shopping list reminder, or an alert for a special product offer in-store”







This list is set to expand as more brands jump on the beacon bandwagon. Beyond everyday retail solutions such as CRM solutions and product marketing, beacons can also be applied as:

  • App launchers in home –its the interactions of devices with the surroundings which makes it interesting “sitting down in the living room to enjoy some Netflix on Apple TV could open your Remote app. In other words, Beacons could turn your iPhone into a contextually aware, automatic Swiss Army knife of mobile software that responds instantly to your environment”.
  • Interactive guides in museums – ‘Current exhibit enhancements, such as self-guided audio tours, can be cumbersome requiring visitors to scan QR codes or forcing them to move more quickly than they would like to. Beacons can make the process more seamless and help identify consumer flow through the museums. The platform makes it possible for museums to add new twists on existing gamification elements, like scavenger hunts.
  • Enhancing events and sports matches in stadiums across the world. Essentially creating micro-locations where you can get different experiences depending on where you are. By loading the free app when you get off the subway and head towards the stadium, it immediately knows where you are. It populates a ballpark guide with information specific to the stadium, so if you were to enter a different stadium, the entire experience and data wouldn’t be the same. As you near the gates, the app displays your ticket’s barcode on screen, as well as a map of where the seats are located. If tickets are loaded into Apple Passbook or purchased online through certain ticketing partners, the app will automatically pull them up. In addition, the app can be programmed to highlight points of interest that can be unlocked, such as playing a video about the history of the stadium while standing near iconic statues. “The whole concept is to give the user an individualized experience that is always different,” he said. “The next time a fan comes to Citi Field, you might not get a prompt to visit the apple because it knows you’ve been there. Instead, it will highlight another area of the stadium.”


Airwave’s view

So where do beacons come in? Beacons straddle both the push and pull of communications.

We definitely like the idea of having contextually relevant information just as we need it. The danger is when brands use it badly it could incur a spam like effect. When consumers opt into, and axe out certain information, brands are given pieces of insights into consumer preferences and purchase patterns. Brands can now better understand the different profiles of their consumers. If used correctly it could serve up information that can be useful to the consumer in the ideal context. There still needs to be a value exchange whether that be offers, useful information, or personalised alerts which are relevant to that individual user. Consumers today are empowered with the autonomy to choose the content they wish to engage with and brands need to respect/respond to that. What this enables, perhaps in the near future, is fully customised 1-1 communication between brand and consumer. The age of relevant context is just beginning…



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