The iBeacon has been making waves ever since its launch last year. The technology itself is quite sophisticated. The iBeacon is a small coin-sized device that works by emitting Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) signals, and can communicate with other Bluetooth LE enabled devices within a given short range of distance. So retailers can use it to send relevant offers and promotions to consumers when they walk into a store. The range of the signal can be adjusted and the retailer can place several beacons throughout the store so customers get offers based on which department they are in at that moment. A shopper has to opt in to the experience by installing an app like Shopkick.
Currently, the iBeacon technology has been optimized for Apple and Android phones. If you are at the Apple store, you need to make sure that you have the Apple Store app installed on your phone and that your location settings are turned on. Then you can get notifications, say about your item being ready for pick-up, or your Genius ready to talk to you, and you can also check out without ever talking to a salesperson.
In November 2013, the technology became accessible to retailers via Shopkick’s ShopBeacon. Shopkick is an app that lets you tag items that you like online and then alerts you on offers related to that and other products when you are in the store. The ShopBeacon allows retailers to send hyper-localized offers to consumers via the app, even if it is not open. So, you can send product offers as the shopper moves around the store from perfumes to shoes to business wear. The more data you have about the consumer, the more you can tailor the offers and promotions to their liking. Macy’s was the first retailer to start experimenting with the ShopBeacon followed by American Eagle Outfitters, who announced last month that they were installing the ShopBeacon in 100 stores across the country.
Along with geo-fencing and wearable technology, the iBeacon promises to help resurrect the wobbly future of the brick and mortar store. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of this technology? A key advantage is that due to the low energy signal, it does not drain out your phone’s battery. That has been an issue with regular Bluetooth-enabled devices. Same goes for the iBeacon device itself. A single battery can last for 5 years even if it’s being run 24/7.
The obvious disadvantage or rather inconvenience is that it works only if the consumer is in the store already. A comprehensive multi-channel approach can help navigate this issue. Retailers and brands have to make sure that they have a solid marketing strategy that gives customers a seamless shopping experience across all channels and provides them with enough incentive to come to the store. This means that businesses need to have a broad and deep understanding of their own and their competitors’ products whether it’s assortment, availability, pricing or promotion.
A deep understanding of their product catalog will empower companies to provide the right product information at the right time to the right person and truly optimize the power of the iBeacon. If you have already built a strong relationship with your consumers, it wouldn’t be difficult to get them into the store and let the iBeacon be their personal shopper.