Beacons - hit or miss? / by Isabelle Ringnes

Beacons are slowly but surely gaining traction in the retail market. Brands like Macy's and Apple have been championing the funky looking devices for quite some time. 

Beacons are expected to become wildy popular in the next few years. Obviously the product offers a broad range of opportunities for retailers, service industries and attractions to grab the attention of the customers. 

During a recent trip to Apple's store in Grand Central I got to fully experience the power of the iBeacon. At first I thought it was quite cool (perhaps because it is new to me) but after the third notification as I was passing by the same shelf I started getting annoyed. The fine line separating useful from painful is going to be an imperative one for brands that choose to integrate Beacons into their marketing mix. 

I am curious how Beacons will evolve over the next few years. The technology (Bluetooth) in itself is not new, but it has not been used widely until recently. After the launch of the Apple iBeacon it suddenly became imperative for brands to start following the trends. Below is a list of use cases I can think of. 

Retail:

Imagine walking into Victoria Secret. Within seconds you receive a notification on your phone welcoming you as a VIP member (if you are). The store has your information regarding sizes, preferences, usual spending amount and purchase history. Using your data, beacons can push sales, deals and new product lines that it thinks may be relevant to you. Another use case is picking up your phone signal while you are walking past the store and prompting you to take advantage of a flash-sale. The check-out process can also be simplified by being able to pay for the items through your phone - similar to how Apple operates in their retail stores today. 

Travel:

At an airport they can notify you of gates, and know where you are. Like if you arrive at the terminal it will immediately let you know which check-out counter to go to and whether your flight is on time. It can also be used to identify people in security lines who are about to miss their flights. When you arrive at the hotel it will automatically pick up your signal and prompt you to check in via phone and perhaps give you some tailored information. As room keys are transitioning from key cards to smartphone screens it can also be a way to send you the room key as you arrive. 

At tourist attractions you will no longer need to purchase audio equipment and guess your way through. By downloading an app and using your Bluetooth connection, beacons are able to fetch your location and tell you about whatever you are observing whether it be a painting, a landmark, a building or sculpture. 

Dining:

My favorite use case. While there are apps that allow you to pay for your meal via an app (like Dash), Beacons could definitely make this transition easier. It could pick up your location, guide you to your table, and enable you to order straight through the app and pay as you go. 

I think the options are limitless. I am looking forward to seeing these devices implemented for more positive, personalized and seamless experiences in the future.