Beacons: The Technology Darling that Will Change the Way You Shop



Beacons are the latest technological darlings positioned to reshape the consumer experience in retail. But are they just a fad? Like their precursors with similar promises such as augmented reality, QR codes and geofencing, the success of beacons will depend on the adoption rate of consumers. They do however present some pretty interesting opportunities for consumers and marketers. Here’s a look at what beacons are, why the tech industry is excited about them and what opportunities they present for the future.

The reason you may have heard a bit about Beacons lately can be attributed to Apple who made significant updates to their iBeacon technology in iOS7. However beacons have been around for quite some time and already brands and stores like Macy’s, PayPal and Major League Baseball are experimenting with them.

Beacons work like this: Imagine you’re shopping at a department store and there are squillions of people around rummaging through the racks. The moment you walk into the store a notification is sent to your phone informing you of the available brands on your favorites list that are available at that very store. Even better than that, another notification pushes live inventory data to you to let you know the styles that are available in your size. It will also tell you where exactly in the store those garments are hanging so you can cut the time you’d spend rummaging through those racks with the rest of the squillions of people shopping. That’s beacons.

Beacons bridge the gap between online and offline retail shopping, feeding your data to retailers and vice-versa to create better ways of shopping.

They are Bluetooth enabled pieces of hardware discreet enough to attach to a wall or counter and transmit messages to other Bluetooth devices like smartphones and tablets. Because they use Bluetooth, they are low-energy and battery friendly. They provide a way for devices to communicate with each other indoors, where GPS receivers are limited. Meaning they can pinpoint down to the floor level and aisle, your location. With that kind of information a retailer can send promotions on products that could be at your eye level.

Apple has beacons in iOS7 and with over 80 percent of Apple devices running now on iOS7, your phone is probably already a traceable beacon.

Beacons in the retail sector are currently getting the most attention for the use of cashless transactions and promotions. But they could provide some other really interesting uses for event organizers and transit systems. They’d have great use at music festivals to move people throughout the grounds to the shortest lines for bathrooms and bars. Or at airports where gate information would be sent straight to you while you’re burning time at Hudson News. Or even smaller galleries that can send artist information and price details on the very work you’re perusing.

It will be interesting to see where beacons go. It would be great to see the use of this technology to actually improve customer experiences and not marketers to just push ads and discounts to people as we try to go on with our business. The future is bright and anything that could make Black Friday shopping nicer comes greatly appreciated.

This piece was written by Amber Horsburgh and is reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Mikey Jones

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