​Why it’s time to start understanding and exploring beacon technology

How location-based technology can help in work and play
Graham McCorkill

Graham McCorkill

Since Apple’s announcement of its iBeacon technology back in 2013 and Google’s release of Eddystone soon after, retailers have been exploring how location-based technology can speak to mobile devices in order to enhance the shopping experience. While there are a few business trialling this technology, it’s still yet to be explored to its full potential, and with the recent success of augmented reality technologies and apps like Pokémon Go, it’s clear consumers are more than ready to embrace highly interactive customer experiences driven by technology.

Beacons offer an opportunity to address consumers’ heightening expectations for personalised, timely, and relevant content as and when they need it most. It’s time for Australians to not only understand how beacons work and how they can be applied, but actually start embracing their capabilities and testing how they can improve customer engagement, brand loyalty, sales, and more.

What are beacons and how do they work?

Beacons are a type of ‘nearables’ – everyday objects that have smart features included, which are only enabled when a user is within close proximity. This could be in the form of walking past a store and receiving instant notification of a sale.

Nearables include near-field communication (NFC) technology currently used in tap-and-go payment systems, and match-box sized transmitters that can be used for anything from tracking lost items to automatically turning on lights or unlocking doors.The beacons themselves are almost maintenance free and usually use small, replaceable batteries that can last up to five years due to their low power requirements.

How could beacons impact customer experiences?

As customers demand increasingly tailored shopping experiences, beacons present significant opportunities to gain valuable insights and learnings about customer behaviour. A user with a Bluetooth-enabled device needs only to be in a location where a beacon is active, and a pre-programmed action could be automatically triggered, waking an app at the right moment and sending relevant content straight to their screen.

Beacons can help retailers understand how people shop in each category, find out whether the category is merchandised in an effective way, or if it is in the right spot within the store. Businesses can then use this data to find potential growth opportunities. As online shopping experiences improve and become more tailored to the customer, beacons can help brick-and-mortar stores stay relevant while digitally agile.

When used wisely, beacons can transform customers’ engagement with your brand

Every business today needs a robust customer engagement plan. On the one hand, beacons provide businesses the ability to be extremely targeted with their advertising and communication. On the other, beacon technology can also reverse this customer engagement effect if used lazily to flood customers with generic advertisements – i.e. spam.

Several large Australian names show how proper engagement plans can effectively provide this improved customer experience. For example, the Australian Museum uses beacons to offer a gamified scavenger hunt experience for children visiting the exhibits, using sensory technology at its core. They use ‘radar bars’ to calculate the distance between the device and the beacon the child is trying to find, using hot and cold radars to visualise this for users. For children, this makes museum visits a lot more exciting.

Sydney Airport is another area currently trialling location-based analytics and beacon technology. The beacons allow them to track passengers via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and heat mapping technology to discover bottlenecks and preferences for retail stores allowing the airport to decide the best brands and stores to match consumer tastes. Beacons can also show passengers turn-by-turn directions to their terminal, track bathroom cleaning for staff, and send location-based retail offers. Not only does the business benefit from a sales standpoint, but operational efficiencies can also be made.

The retail space currently stands as one of the biggest opportunities for beacons, providing real-time proximity marketing, contactless payments and live in-store foot-traffic and analytics. Stores like Audemars Piguet for example, use beacons to turn their customers’ smartphones into automated sales assistants. It detects when a customer has picked up a particular product and immediately sends additional information such as other colours, technical specifications and related products. This allows Audermars Piguet to enrich their customer services capabilities whilst reducing the need to hire extra staff.

The common theme amongst all of these applications of beacon technology is the focus on building an experience that is highly integrated with mobile technology and analytics, allowing teams to collect significant amounts of validated learning data about customers with little effort.

Beacons provide a unique opportunity for businesses, adapting to the changing behaviours of consumers that are now almost always digitally connected. Not only do beacons effectively engage users and potential customers, they can also provide valuable insights and data for future analysis. Armed with this intel, businesses can more effectively understand their target market and improve the customer experiences they deliver.

Graham McCorkill, Co-Founder and Director at Buzinga App Development