A year after the iBeacon was announced at the World Wide Developer’s Conference, retailers are jumping on the opportunity to utilize Apple’s powerful new technology that allows for a deeper level of interaction between marketers, smart phone users, and the digital and physical worlds. Backed by the power of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a variant of the Bluetooth Classic, iBeacon possesses the power to detect devices in short range, while taking up minimal battery life and incredibly low data traffic. What does this mean for marketers? A new way to strategically geolocate and message visitors in a way that hasn’t been possible before. While smart phones have allowed for geotargeting in years’ past, the new BLE technology is even more precise and not held back by the typical problems associated with batter drain from WiFi and Bluetooth-or blocked signals.
Beacon hardware components (produced by both Apple and outside companies like Qualcomm) are now being scattered around stores, museums, venues, and other locations to completely transform visitor experiences. Take for example how Apple is utilizing its own technology in Apple Stores around the country. Visitors can download the Apple Store App, switch on their location and notification services, and then wait for a curated experience as they roam the store. By syncing with the in-store Beacon hardware, smart phone users can be informed of special deals depending on the department they are in, schedule Genius Bar appointments, get alerts when their Genius is ready, and even purchase merchandise directly through the phone without any employee interaction.
The Beacon technology could potentially mean a more disruptive in-store experience, but it also unlocks a creative potential for venues like museums who could provide details on nearby artwork or relevant information to improve visitor experiences. The NFL has already experimented with this in Super Bowl XLVIII at both MetLife Stadium and the Times Square Super Bowl Boulevard, where beacons were scattered to alert NFL app users on news like closest entry gates and points of interest.
Companies experimenting with the technology will have to deal with the inevitable blacklash from the many with major concerns over data security and privacy. Even though the Beacons themselves do not use an internet connection or collect data, they will still sync with phones that have access lines to user data.
In the coming months we can expect to see stores, ranging from Macy’s to American Eagle, playing with the technology at their retail locations. Retailers will have to responsibly balance the line between helpful in-store notifications and obnoxious advertisements.