If smartphones were not enough, we now have wearable technologies to do almost all our works indoor. But signals are not always very strong in the indoor spaces and locating devices via GPS becomes nearly impossible at times. This is where beacons come in.

Beacon technology uses a low-cost piece of hardware, which is attached to a countertop or wall to transmit messages to a mobile device via battery-friendly Bluetooth connections. This futuristic technology is all set to transform the way retailers, enterprises, transit systems, educational institutions and event organizers will communicate with people indoors. In fact, this technology has already created hype in the retailing industry in the same way how the news of “Apples iOS9 update” have rocked the tech world. As a result, technology giants are penetrating this market scope.

For example, Apple has already rolled out iBeacon, its own beacon technology across its 254 U.S. stores. Now that the company is about to launch iWatch, which also incorporates the beacon technology, marketers can now provide in-store retailing experience via iBeacon to consumers on the go.

In addition, iOS app provider (for mobile shopping) Shopkick has deployed iBeacon technology in two Macy’s locations and 100 American Eagle locations.

What is iBeacon?
Consider this: While you are walking past Macy’s shoe aisle, which displays a pair of TOMS shoes that you happened to browse half-an-hour back. You get a message alert reading, “Buy TOMS shoes at 40% off at Macy’s”! What a coincidence!

Not really, it’s just the iBeacon placed next shoe aisle sending your smart device a signal to display the message. Timing has never been more convenient before the advent of beacon technology.

iBeacon is the technological standard for Apple. They are small wireless, hardware sensors that are designed to transmit data and communicate with other beacons (made by 3rd party companies) within a specific proximity. The purpose of these 3rd party beacons is to emit a signal through Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to other nearby Apple devices. This technology is a boon for in-store purposes, which include targeted messaging, geolocation and shopper analytics.

Apple Watch is also integrated with this ground-breaking technology. This means, your smartwatch will constantly scan for nearby Bluetooth devices and once it identifies a beacon, your iWatch will wake up relevant apps, even if the app is closed or not running in the background. The iBeacon will send relevant data and promotional messages, including location-specific ads.

How it Works?
To understand how iBeacon works let’s go back to the example of Macy’s store. As mentioned, Macy’s is using Shopkick beacons, which are compatible with iBeacon technology. Besides, Macy’s iOS app supports iBeacon.  As you walk close to Shopkick beacon in the store, it emits a signal to the Macy’s app sharing your personal information and approximate location. In turn, Macy’s servers analyze your in-app browsing history and in-store location to send a relevant promotion, directly to your watch.

Leveraging iBeacon technology, retailers can enhance the in-store experience of customers, whenever there is an opportunity. Its advantages include:

  • They can send targeted and relevant information to customer’s location.
  • iBeacon can send in-door directions, promotions and recommendations on compatible Apple devices.
  • Apple has recently fine-tuned the in-door mapping capabilities of iBeacon. It can now approximate the movements of a user with more precision.

This will further enhance the customers’ experience inside a brick-and-mortar store. But there is more to it.

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Creating a Value Proposition
Monetary task is very little with beacon technology from an investment standpoint. The 3rd party beacon packages (Twocanoes Software, Estimote and Roximity) that are compatible with iBeacon are within $100 range and Qualcomm Retail Solutions’ Gimbal proximity beacons cost $10 to $20 per beacon, if you’re buying in bulk. The battery power lasts between six months and beyond two years, based on the beacon you’re using.

The ROI therefore can be justified quickly. In its essence, iBeacon technology offers an inexpensive solution for retailers.

Combined with Retail Analytics to Maximize Value
Retailers who have deployed beacon technology as well as those who are planning to have already have implemented solutions to track customer engagement. Beacon thereby is the next step for the tracking process. At present, it is trying to understand the needs of customers at the individual level.

However, retailers need to combine iBeacon with related analytics. For example, it is important to use great databases, CRM systems and analytics in combination with BLE to trigger the personalized experiences we have discussed so far. It will be foolishness to expect that iBeacon alone can provide those great experiences.

Personalized communications provided by iBeacons can be used for:

  • Product advertisements
  • Loyalty programs
  • Product information
  • Coupons & contests
  • In-store interactive games & promote programs

Scavenger hunts, for instance, can become great fun using beacon technology and retailers can leverage upon such promote programs to further promote fun and loyalty. This is a great way to deliver more personalized experience to customers without hiring a lot of employees.

There are other aspects of iBeacon technology as well that are beneficial to retailers, apart from personalization. Using geolocation capabilities retailers can identify number of associates in the store and product location, peak traffic times, and checkout line length. Although it is compared to GPS, the indoor accuracy of BLE makes iBeacon a better solution in a retail environment.

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Price Comparison & One-Touch Payment Solution
Shelfbucks is allowing buyers to compare product prices with online retailers while in the store, leveraging beacon technology. It is a game-changer for shoppers who are skeptical of in-store prices and when combined with iWatch, it can add a huge value to consumers.

In addition, Apple Pay works on iWatch. It allows users to pay at checkout via an easy, quick swipe. The combination of Bluetooth, iBeacon and NFC makes Apple Watch an innovative solution for retailers. Using a single technology, retailers can deliver details of stores, location-specific ads, product information, coupons and special discounts and also a channel to make payments at checkouts. Apple Watch therefore is ready to provide a seamless shopping experience to buyers with a mere glance at their wrist.

Marsh Supermarkets and inMarket also launched a new iBeacon platform for Apple Watch in the beginning of this year. They have plans to fully integrate this wearable device with Marsh’s loyalty program to provide quick-hit promotions and ads, which in turn, will open up doors of new opportunities for retailers.

However, the technology is still in its test-and-learn stage and we will have to wait till the launch of Apple Watch to see the real-life implementation and its effect on customers’ in-store experience.