Picture this – you’re walking in the mall (shopping centre of course in the UK but I love the way mall sounds) and you see a friend who tells you that your favourite PiriPiri chicken is on offer at M&S, only that your friend is called Beacon, and communicates to you via mobile app!

beacons blog

The definition of a Beacon in the English dictionary is a light or signal or guide. That’s what a Beacon is – like a digital guide to products or promotions.

We’re on the brink of a major shift in how consumers use and interface with technology on a daily basis and Beacons are the latest tech innovation to disrupt the instore retail sector.

How it works

Essentially, if you open a store app that utilizes Beacon technology, you can receive directions to an aisle, receive coupons and other discounts in real time. For example, if you’re in the new digital Argos store and standing next to the flatscreen TV display, the app may ask you if you would like an upgrade because you don’t have the latest model and it noticed you kept going back to the display.

beacons blog

How the technology works

Beacons are tiny bits of hardware powered by Bluetooth Low Energy technology that emit signals which are picked up by mobile phones. Those signals can tell the retailer where someone is and allow it to tailor a promotion to a consumer’s phone regardless of whether that person is connected to the Internet. Beacon is more about proximity, more than location. Beacon is currently available on Apple iOS (iBeacon) but has limited use on Android.

Issues

For the Appsters – cool people of Tech City who will literally sign their lives away to be the first to try the latest new tech app, or for Shopoholics, Beacons will no doubt be amazing. Though I suspect that many others may be less optimistic, and I understand because passing a stand and then getting a signal to your phone with a deal wont be everyone’s cup of tea.

Imagine walking down Oxford Street and getting pinged every five steps (no thanks). Limiting the number of messages a person receives will be key. If people are over-targeted they’ll simply turn off Bluetooth.

Retailers should ensure Beacons are personalised to each customer. Roger should only get alerts for products he would be interested in buying today and in the departments he is likely to be shopping. Unless, it’s the week of Valentine’s Day and he is shopping for his wife.

Beacons should allow feedback from customers; is the deal they received appealing? What deals would they like to know about?

Other uses

While retail is the most obvious place to start for Beacons, there are plenty of other ways the technology can be used for instance; navigation in a museum….tourist information about the city, or in the smart home….possibilities are endless.

Related links

WiFi or beacons for location based services?

About Misha

“I’m Misha Terrett and I have a passion for keeping up with technology. I love trying out the latest apps, reviewing new gadgets, and sharing my thoughts on tech subjects and issues that are of interest to us all. Visit my blog or follow me on Twitter @mishaterrett