How Apple iBeacon Will Change Retail

As EAT becomes the first UK retailer to trial Apple iBeacon in store, Green Room asks if this new technology really does have the power to change the way we shop.

How Apple iBeacon Will Change Retail

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The mere thought of ‘Bluetooth Marketing’ may have many retailers – and consumers – cringing at the memory of pairing requests and spam messages from the early 2000’s. But fast forward to 2014, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons are set to transform the retail environment as we know it.

EAT has been announced as the first UK retailer to sign up to trial Apple’s iBeacon; a micro-location-based notifications system quietly introduced by the technology giant during the World Wide Developer Conference in 2013.

BLE lies at the heart of iBeacon and allows two-way communication between devices. Specific iOS apps communicate with the beacons to inform customers of special offers and discounts by locating exactly where they are in store.

Here, we take a look at how Apple’s iBeacon will change retail forever:

1. Customer information and data capture

Imagine being silently alerted when a click-and-collect customer has entered the store, enabling you to have their delivery ready for collection before they have even reached the cash desk. With iBeacon, this is a real possibility.

The new technology brings with it a whole host of customer service benefits and provides a real opportunity for ‘surprise and delight’. iBeacon has the potential to allow store staff to quickly and easily identify specific customers as soon as they enter the store.

Not only this, but they can also link these customers to their online activity. For instance, brands will be able to send mobile notifications with a discount to customers who have previously brought running shoes online when they enter the store.

2. Capture passing footfall

It is a retailers’ dream to be able to shout out to every shopper who passes their door and encourage them to cross the threshold and browse their rails. With the Apple iBeacon technology, this is completely possible.

By offering a discount to a customer that may not have otherwise been thinking about spending money is a great way for retailers to get people thinking about their brand. iBeacon is just one of the ways that bricks-and-mortar stores can deliver ecommerce-based customer experience.

3. Accurate indoor locations

One of the biggest problems with Bluetooth and NFC (Near Field Communication) has been locating where customers are once they are inside a specific space. This has meant that this local, personalised marketing experience stops once a customer enters a store.

But not with iBeacon.

By triangulating beacons throughout the store, shopping centre, or even public space; brands and retailers can accurately pinpoint where customers are. This means that stores can send a notification to a customer as soon as they enter a specific department in store, something which Apple is doing in their Grand Central store.

With accuracy down to inches rather than feet, iBeacon can be used to give customers information based on their immediate environment. For instance; the technology could be used on a football stadium tour to provide additional information when visitors head to the changing rooms and VIP suites.

4. Customer privacy is protected

No brand wants to invade their customers’ privacy and collect data against their will or spam them with marketing messages. Perhaps the biggest draw of BLE technology is that they only collect or use the information customers have chosen to share.

iBeacon works in conjunction with an app that customers will have had to download prior to sending them any messages. This means that when they choose to network with the beacons, they will already have their privacy settings in place; protecting both the brand and the retailer.

But after this, BLE technology and iBeacon’s require little to no effort on the user’s part. Targeted information will be sent to their phone when they are near or in the designated space; but only once consent is given and privacy is protected.

5. Affordable, low-maintenance hardware

Despite all of these points, retailers may find themselves put off by iBeacon; assuming that it will be a costly in-store development that requires a huge amount of maintenance. In reality though, all BLE hardware is more affordable than brands may realise.

The total cost of ownership of the Apple iBeacon or indeed any similar BLE installation is far below the typical level for enterprise retail hardware of this kind. Even large department stores, shopping centres and leisure environments can be fully networked for a negligible cost.

Moreover, the ‘low energy’ aspect of this hardware means that – according to manufacturers at least – the devices can run for up to two years on a single coin battery. Should one malfunction, they can simply be swapped for a new one; much like changing a light bulb.

Apple might not be the only brand experimenting with this technology, but they are the main players in bringing it into the public domain. As more brands and retailers follow in the footsteps of EAT and adopt the technology, Apple’s iBeacon is set to change retail forever.

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Clare Evans

Clare Evans

Clare Evans is Green Room’s Marketing Executive

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