How could iBeacons transform your retail space?

ShoppingArcadeRetail is getting a makeover. By using new mobile features we’re able to enhance the shopping experience bringing brick and mortar stores up to date. But do you need some advice on how you can make the most of the latest technology?

iBeacons and Bluetooth LE
Bluetooth received a big upgrade when Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was rolled into the standard.  With BLE came the promise of richer interactions that doesn’t sap your phone battery; meaning brands can now do numerous things, from tagging physical products, to providing accurate indoor positioning.

BLE has been supported by Apple since the iPhone 4S and officially on newer Android devices since Android 4.3. With iPhone this is done through “iBeacons”, small devices that continually broadcast BLE signals which phones and tablets can connect to to transmit data. These can be made to work across platforms, so for simplicity we can stick to using “iBeacons” as a general term for referring to this new wave of Bluetooth LE devices.

iBeacons come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny low cost coin-sized discs with year-long battery life right up to phones, tablets and computers re-purposed to broadcast, receive and send data. But what sorts of thing can they be used for?

Indoor Positioning and Navigation
We’ve all used GPS on our phones and SatNavs to locate us somewhere on a street or navigate the roads, and it can be accurate to just a few meters. When we go indoors the signal starts to fail, and in some cases there’s no GPS at all.

However, the proliferation of mobile devices and particularly smartphones coupled with wifi and bluetooth technology developments, means for the first time these devices can be used inside shops, buildings and spaces as a key channel for consumer engagement.

To provide accurate indoor positioning, companies have traditionally used Wi-Fi; placing numerous Wi-Fi routers around to triangulate the signal strength to a person’s phone. By using the same trick, several low cost bluetooth beacons can be spread out around stores, stuck to walls, under shelves, almost anywhere, creating a mesh of known locations. By reading the signal strength from nearby beacons we can accurately find our position on an indoor map.

Retail locations can use this as a navigational aid to find stores or amenities, but also within stores themselves to direct customers to relevant products, to display related offers or promotions and provide assistance. For the retailer this also works to provide additional insight and metrics, tracking customers’ behaviour, movement and interest.

Product Tagging and Augmentation
iBeacons are small enough that they can be stuck directly underneath or near specific products in store.

iBeacons could be used to enhance the retail experience by combining a mobile app with iBeacons placed around a physical retail store in order to identify both areas within the store and individual products.  Essentially this supports product discovery and immersion, as the app could provide information on ranges of products, specific product details, provide the opportunity to add to basket for online checkout and  as well as the functionality to request assistance from a member of staff. Additionally when leaving the store, retailers could take the opportunity to send a notification to the customer asking them how their experience went.

Access to Premium Content Based on Proximity
With location comes proximity. Exact Editions has used the proximity to iBeacons to unlock the full contents of magazines and newspapers to nearby customers. Publications are only available in full when you are, for example, in a coffee shop, salon or any place that has licensed the latest issues – and the content automatically reverts back to an excerpt when you leave.

Loyalty and Personalisation
Building on the foundations of location and proximity we can combine GPS and iBeacons to provide multiple levels of interaction both outside and in-store.

Take as an example a coffee shop where customers can place an order via their phone en-route and utilise GPS navigation to make their way to a store. Upon arriving the iBeacon system tells staff that the customer is here and the staff can immediately greet and serve them, a convenient and personalised experience.

As well as making things more personal, knowing that someone is physically located at your store can lend itself to providing a loyalty programme, ditching stickers and cards for a more frictionless experience.

Payment and Direct Interaction
Contactless payment as provided by your bank card and in some places via smartphones with NFC has become a commonplace and relatively simple way to make payments without dealing with cash or chip-and-pin. Companies like PayPal are looking to iBeacons as a way of making that even easier for customers, by providing a plug-in beacon that allows retailers to take payment direct from the PayPal mobile app.

Further Uses
There are many other uses already being trialled, such as keyless vehicle entry, securing and unlocking things via proximity, checking in at hotels and conferences, scanning artwork to provide deeper insight at a gallery, or signaling your presence at an event.

Great uses are popping up every day, but by combining iBeacons with existing technologies we will likely see a great proliferation of new ideas and customer experiences with mobile at the core.

Richard Leggett is director of technology at Somewhat. Follow him on Twitter @richardleggett.