iBeacons Need To Work Smart With Mobile Apps And Put Users In Control

It could be just me being a middle-aged grump, but does anyone actually want to be welcomed to a supermarket? This would appear to be the experience Waitrose suspects people want when they walk into a test store in Swindon, via their latest iBeacons trial, but I wonder. First off, all supermarkets could make themselves a lot more approachable by not requiring people to find a pound coin to get a trolley and not duck their heads while a charity or guy selling AA membership tries to collar them.

Then, when in-store, why would customers want to be told of special offers which, presumably are going to be highlighted with big "2 for 1" signage.

If we've learned anything about potentially disruptive technology that can improve consumer experiences, it is that it's best used when serving the customer rather than pushing messages they don't control at them. Think about it -- Amazon's suggestions are great. Spotify constantly telling you who's new to the entire music ecosystem are less useful because they're not as geared to you as a polite note that points out, for example, people often buy a colour ink cartridge with the black box to save money and get free shipping.

So my jury is very much out on iBeacons -- unless they can be combined with other mobile applications. Waitrose is already looking at a mobile payment app to scan and pay for items in a basket. So how about using this app to first draw up a shopping list? It might be from your usual online delivery, but if a list were on your phone you could be told about the items you normally get but haven't just in case you've forgotten something. Or maybe an item you've purchased in the past has just come back in stock and here's directions to English strawberries or Scottish raspberries grown so they actually taste of something.

The Waitrose magazine could be swung into action too. Via an app you could perhaps be told to pick one or more of the top five favourite meals customers are making this week and then be directed around the store to find the ingredients. You might even get a wine recommendation too, complete with tasting notes and guidance to the correct aisle with a replacement wine offered in case the first choice has sold out.

Maybe the iBeacon tech should be all about more information. All supermarkets face the same quandary of trying to cut back on packaging yet put more nutritional and sourcing information on labels. So how about iBeacons allowing consumers to scan a product code and get the full picture? Imagine an organic sheep farmer or apple orchard. They could go to town with information on what makes their produce better, all relayed to an enquiring shopper via iBeacons. It could work the other way too, with a brand offering juice from concentrate pointing out how much greener it is to dehydrate and then rehydrate orange juice than ship the product whole from source.

In fact, there could even be a feature that rates what you put in your basket for sustainability, fat content, sugar levels and so on, perhaps even with alternatives offered.

All this has to give value to the customer and not just in the form of a "50% off" deal that they can clearly see on a huge red label in front of them.

I have yet to see a killer use of iBeacons, but if supermarkets gear themselves around giving more to customers and allow them to dictate the communication and where value lies for them, we just might well see it. "Welcome to the store" and "Welcome to the bacon aisle, where you'll find we have some great offers" will just not cut it. 

People want to know more and more about what they're putting in their baskets. iBeacons could be the delivery mechanism.

1 comment about "iBeacons Need To Work Smart With Mobile Apps And Put Users In Control".
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  1. Michael Oddi from Tango Partners, May 6, 2014 at 1:37 p.m.

    I believe the technology has great potential if you think of iBeacon (BLE) technology as a physical representation of an eCommerce site in the real world. If you are on a page of a website looking at a particular item, the website provides recommendations for similar or complementary items on other pages. Likewise, if you are in a retail store, the app would know your location within the store and recommend similar or complementary products in other parts of the store while providing added value to the consumer that doesn't have to be discount orientated. Your wine/food paring recommendation is a good example. By downloading the app and enabling the technology, you get new information that enhances your shopping experience. Another example would be an app that lets you take a full length picture of your body and store it. As you walk through the store and come in proximity of different clothing items, the app would show you what each item looks like on you – in essence, a virtual dressing room (with no waiting in line).

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