I’ll admit it, I missed the announcement that, with the latest version of iOS (7.1), Apple had a made subtle change to the last great hope of high street retail. What do you mean you don’t know what I’m on about? You missed the changes to iBeacon? Hmm, it seems like a lot of people did. It’s almost like Apple were sneaking this one under the radar.
So a few months back, in a classic digital hype over storm, Apple launched iBeacon. Using this technology and location-based services, companies will be able to work out where you are in their store, which products you’re considering, and send you promotional offers according your preference – all through a mobile application that can be easily downloaded by a customer.
The problem was that nobody really used it. You had to have the app running and we inefficient humans keep forgetting to turn it on. But those clever chaps at Apple don’t really like inefficiency and wanted to save us that bother of remembering to be sold to.
Using low-energy Bluetooth I (and let’s gloss over the fact that even though it’s low energy, many turn Bluetooth off to preserve batteries), the iBeacon will handily be able to detect devices that have this app installed, as long as the device has Bluetooth enabled, and even detect how far the device is away from the iBeacon. It will also be able to send messages to the device that will be displayed, even if the device is locked.
This is a big change for iBeacon. Previously, users had to be running the relevant app in order for iBeacon to send them messages. Now, just having the app installed is enough. Users can be using another app, or the device can be locked and put away in a pocket or a bag.
I’m all for retailers using technology to try and reverse the trend of falling high street sales. This technology has the potential to build the bridge between the retailer and the customer and goes some way to break into that purchase cycle by tactically and strategically offering and profiling their individual consumer whilst they are in their bricks and mortar stores.
While these solutions have been in use for a while in the US, they are yet to hit the mainstream in the UK. For UK retailers, the challenge is to decide how to use these tools effectively to deliver excellent customer services and sell more products. The problem is, the British retail market and their digital advisers have pretty much failed to grasp the mobile nettle over the years. NFC and QR codes never really caught on, AR technologies are way too fiddly. There has been a feeling that it is somehow too invasive for the British public to handle.
Which, when you think about it, has to be rubbish. I have lost count of articles I have read about how consumers just see the nearest screen or device; they don’t recognise channels. We are used to be being behaviourally targeted, retargeted, emailed a hundred times a day, auto start video ads leaving us confused as to where that sound is coming from, and the list goes on. This has all happened without the fall of civilisation or people throwing their desktops or tablets into the nearest canal. So why shouldn’t it happen on mobile?
The British High Street retail industry has never been in such a mess. I say let’s stop being coy and start trying these techniques.