Toby Vervaart

Nov 8, 2014

Beacons, the future of retail?

I seem to be talking and reading1 a lot2 about Beacons again recently, both at work and informally with a variety of people. Beacons, it seems, are finally coming in to vogue, but I’m still not sold on the usefulness of the technology from a consumer’s perspective.

A (very) brief overview of beacons

Beacons (formerly, or currently depending on who you talk to, iBeacons) were introduced by Apple in mid 2013 are small devices which emit a signal using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)3. This signal can then be picked up by your smartphone and interpreted by an application.

This then allows the application listening to the beacons to find out some information. This information is mainly about your proximity to the beacon, supplied by the signal strength it receives. In the event that multiple beacons are recognised, they can be individually interpreted by their unique id (UUID).

Nick Farina has written a great introduction to beacons which you should definitely read.

Beacons and retail

Naturally retailers love the idea of beacons. It allows them to easily send notifications to customers based on their proximity to a beacon, which could be;

Whilst the technology hasn’t been widely adopted yet, there have been a few examples of brands using beacons to enhance the retail experience4.

Consumer value (?)

Just how beacon technology will provide value to consumers is still quite vague. Obviously there is the possibility to engage consumers in a just in time manner, which could drive far better conversion rates.

However developers must be responsible with these notifications as whilst they have the power to drive consumer engagement, the same engagement strategies, overused or used at the wrong time could very easily impact the shopping experience in a negative fashion.

It will be interesting to see how brands continue to use this technology as it matures and becomes more widely commonplace.