Beacons are small, physical objects – wireless transmitters that broadcast radio signals short distances. Smartphones and mobile devices can pick up on their signals to receive content. Their use is on the rise across a range of industries.
They have been likened to indoor GPS and, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, beacons can communicate with and send small data packets to smartphones that come into a range of about 50-100 metres. They are low cost and require very little energy.
Within the marketing sector, beacon technology is also known as “proximity marketing” – alluding to its importance in creating timely physical context and location-specific relevance for customers.
The popularity of beacon technology is soaring as smartphones and mobile devices continue to proliferate. A recent study by AirSpace showed that 79% of the brands questioned are planning to implement proximity marketing over the next six months.
So 2015 could be the year that beacon technology hits the big time. And much of the commercial interest in beacon technology so far has come from the retail sector.
Apple has created its own iBeacons and set out its support for the technology by installing them in all its US stores to help customers seek assistance, alert them if their iPhone is eligible for an upgrade and push information about special deals.
Technology company Iconeme are currently developing the patent-pending VMBeacon – a beacon for use in fashion retail environments. The technology has already been trialled by House of Fraser, Oasis, Hawes & Curtis, and Jaeger. It has just been launched at Ted Baker‘s store in Westfield White City, London – a first for the brand.
How does it work? Customers will need to download the free app and allow push notifications. VMBeacons are inserted into mannequins within the store. When a customer passes a beacon, a push notification is triggered in the associated smartphone app.
These alerts can provide links to the Ted Baker website, or help the customer locate where the mannequin’s garments can be found on the shop floor. The beacons also generate detailed photos and descriptions of what the customer is looking at, and this content can become more interactive too: Shoppers can create look-books, share items with friends on social media, or be encouraged to continue using the app – and shop with the brand – by receiving exclusive offers and rewards.
Beacon technology can also be helpful for encouraging active sales and engagement outside of store opening hours. Mannequins located in window displays could interact with passers-by at all times of day and night.
Other uses for beacons in retail include automatic acceptance of tickets, loyalty cards and payments. Norwegian startup Unacast is planning to use beacons to provide brands with the opportunity to re-target online ads to consumers based on the actual items they have been looking at in-store.
Education & learning
The potential uses for beacon technology within eLearning are huge. Visitors to museums and art galleries could benefit from using a site-specific app linked to beacons throughout the venue, which could offer a much more interactive experience than traditional signage and audio guides are able to do.
Curators and educators could collate further information for each object or artwork and save it within a beacon. Visitors could then automatically access interviews, music, further description, and video, and even respond to – and interact with – the object.
You can imagine that an app would then allow users to save their favourite pieces and share them with others – turning a potentially boring school trip into a rich, rewarding and more long-lasting experience.
Achieving personal targets would also be a great way to use beacons. They could guide you around the gym for example, delivering your exercise routine to your smartphone or updating your smartwatch as you go.
Beacons are already being used to enhance travel and transport services for passengers, especially in locations such as major international airports. A pilot scheme by Emirates is fitting beacons into luggage tags – like a kind of wearable technology for suitcases – to track baggage and help prevent loss.
British Airways has been trialling the devices at key points along the consumer journey to improve customer experience and provide useful information like boarding times. Beacons could also be used at transport hubs to notify passengers of timetable changes, delays, special deals and gate information.
Back on the high street, a Barclays Bank branch in Sheffield is currently trialling beacon technology to help its disabled customers. An application on the customer’s iPhone will recognise the in-store beacon to notify staff that they have entered the building and will require assistance.
Our tips: Making beacon technology work for you
- Convincing users to download your app is the hard bit. Remember that consumers will download apps, but only as long as it adds genuine value to their experience.
- Plan how you’ll keep your content fresh. A content management system will allow you to manage all the information in real-time, in a way that’s easily update-able.
- Once your beacon system is live, be sure to make maximum use of it to gain greater insights into your customers’ behaviour, needs and desires.
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