In December, Apple announced that it would implement iBeacon technology in all of its retail stores. So I headed down to my local Apple store to check it out. What I found didn’t exactly “blow my mind.” Their current implementation doesn’t seem to do a whole lot--yet.
After installing the Apple Store App, ensuring my Bluetooth was set to “On” and giving the app the appropriate permissions, it sent me push notifications with details about nearby products--not all that exciting. But the potential improvement to the in-store shopping experience is enormous. Despite being a little underwhelmed by Apple’s initial implementation of the technology, I’m betting that iBeacons (and other Bluetooth LE devices) will be a big deal in 2014.
Getting “the right message, to the right people at the right time” has long been the digital marketer’s elusive “holy grail”. The critical ingredient, unified behavioral data at the customer level, has proved all but impossible for most retailers to obtain. iBeacon has the potential to change that. It will provide retailers with insights into their customers’ in-store shopping behaviors by interacting with the mobile devices that are already in their pockets and on their wrists. It will also provide a new method to display personalized, context-appropriate messaging to customers while they’re in the store. And there’s almost no barrier to entry. Smartphones already support iBeacon.
So what are iBeacons exactly? They’re tiny, low energy indoor GPS-like transmitters. Your phone can pick up their signal indoors with a high degree of accuracy and without draining its battery. In fact, iBeacons are so “low energy” that a coin battery powered iBeacon can transmit its signal for over a year without needing a new battery.
And how will iBeacon transform the retail experience? Retail service isn’t what it used to be. Retail sales people often know little to nothing about the merchandise they sell. They certainly don’t know much about you or your style. With iBeacon, retailers will have the means to offer all their customers a “personal shopper” experience.
Imagine being greeted by name by a salesperson carrying clothes that fit your style and budget, and are in your size when you enter your favorite department.
By integrating iBeacon technology into their mobile apps, retailers will know who their customers are, where they are located in the store, where they spend their time, when they last visited the store, what they’ve purchased in the past and what they’re most likely to be interested in purchasing. They can then make timely, personalized recommendations and offers that will convert more “browsers” into “buyers.”
Retailers will welcome their customers into their favorite department with push messages and interactive displays that offer tips from top designers about how to rock this season’s latest fashions while making the most of the wardrobe they already have. They’ll provide directions to products their customers may be interested in, within areas of the store they may not yet have visited.
Your mobile device already supports iBeacon. The devices are inexpensive and easy to install. Retailers just have to integrate them with their existing mobile applications, and their existing customers will be iBeacon customers.
If you’re squeamish about privacy issues, don’t be. iBeacon is opt-in only. If you don’t want your store to know about you, then don’t sign up for the service.
Given the number of consumers carrying iBeacon ready devices, the insights they will provide to retailers, and the potential they have for transforming the retail experience to give shoppers a new reason to visit their local store, 2014 will be the year for the iBeacon.