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Beacons: how this new technology will change sales forever

For years, companies have been able to gain valuable insight into how people navigate around their websites. Now, for the first time, Bluetooth beacons are bringing the same principles to the real world. 

As of October 1, over 250 million people around the world could benefit from this thanks to Apple introducing support in iOS 7 for its version, iBeacons.

Bluetooth beacons are essentially tiny sensors that send out signals which, when picked up by mobile devices, can trigger specific actions in apps. 

Beacons are typically powered by a coin cell battery that can last for up to two years. The signals only work with apps designed for specific beacons. As they use Bluetooth,  beacons can work in any environment, even when Wi-Fi or a cellular connection isn’t available, to activate offline content.

An example

A simple illustration of this would be in a gallery. With the gallerys app installed on their device, a user would receive a notification on arrival, triggered by a beacon at the gallerys entrance. 

Touching on the notification would open the app, then as the user moves round, beacons could trigger audio guides or additional information about individual pieces when in close proximity. 

At the same time, the gallery would be able to see in real-time which exhibitions are proving most popular. This could be used to direct new visitors around a different route to avoid congestion. It could also be used to make in-app recommendations about items to buy in the gift shop or from an online store based on which pieces the user has been most interested in.

The right place at the right time

Beacons help to provide the right content, in the right location, to the right audience. 

For construction companies, this could help employees clock in and out, deliver health and safety alerts or bring up the right information in specific areas on a site with ease. Within buildings, it could help show whether employees are in or out of the office,  ensure security teams are completing patrols properly or make sensitive files only available on mobile in certain locations. For logistics firms, beacons could tag where products are in a warehouse. 

Apple has deployed iBeacons across all of its 254 US retail stores. They are not alone; Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters and Major League Baseball have all started trials. The technology was even used during the US Superbowl in Times Square and the stadium last weekend to activate information about entry points and in-store promotions.

The opportunity for SMEs

For SMEs, there are two main opportunities here. For those that have mobile as part of their strategy, think about how beacons can be used to enhance the experience and usability of apps. 

This will deliver information about how people move around an area, products they might be interested in micro-experience people have with the real world. 

The second area of opportunity will be third-party apps that employees or customers might be using to interact with your company. Just as with online analytics, it might be possible to get reports from the service providers about how people interact with you in the real world. 

Mobile has been instrumental over the past seven years in helping people sever the ties they have with their desk. In the coming years, beacons will blur the lines between the online world with the real-world. 

Beacons will impact sales, marketing, logistics, construction sites, retail stores, restaurants, tourism, travel, transportation, sports and just about every other market. 

As with apps seven years ago, those that test it early will benefit the most from media interest, gaining useful insight and being seen as an innovator in this burgeoning connected world.

Mike Crooks is commercial director at mobile consultants and mobile app developers Mubaloo.


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