5 innovative ways of harnessing iBeacons

Every week we bring you the FreshMinds Friday picks – ideas to help you make the most of digital technologies and understand how they are helping brands to grow and innovate. This week we’re looking at five ways of harnessing iBeacons. These little devices emit a low energy Bluetooth signal which triggers a reaction from nearby smartphones with a corresponding app. iBeacons can be placed almost everywhere – from supermarket shelves to moving objects – and as such their use cases for the technology are very broad. We look at 5 of our favourites – from improving customer service to providing a tech-enabled dining experience.

To target customers with marketing messages in store

For retailers, one of the most interesting applications of iBeacons is in-store targeting. US fashion chain, Macy’s, was one of the first companies to use iBeacons for this purpose. Last November, they installed the technology to target customers with coupons and relevant product alerts as they pass through the store. Since then a number of other companies have followed suit including American Eagle Outfitters and Waitrose. Whilst using iBeacons for this purpose can be beneficial for brands and consumers alike, it’s important that marketers don’t go overboard and leave customers feeling that their privacy has been invaded. This is being practiced to great effect by Tesco. The grocery giant is using iBeacons to provide helpful tips and reminders, whilst shoppers grow accustomed to the technology, before using it for marketing purposes.

To improve the customer experience

Ever keen to embrace new technology, Virgin Atlantic is leading the pack when it comes to using iBeacons to improve the customer experience. This month, the airline announced plans to trial the technology at London Heathrow Airport to enhance customers’ boarding experiences. Possible applications include triggering a customer’s boarding pass to appear as they approach security or presenting offers as they wonder through duty free. This is not the first time Virgin Atlantic has harnessed new technology to improve customers’ experiences. Earlier in the year, they launched a six-week pilot of Google Glass which was used to provide customers’ with up-to-date information such as flight times or the weather at their destination.

To provide a tech-enabled dining experience

One of my favourite applications of the technology so far is at Japan’s Mirai Resu restaurant. Dinners are greeted not by a waiter, but by an iBeacon at the centre of their table. When a nearby smartphone picks up the Bluetooth signal, it reacts by opening up the menu, which even features the ability to sync with social networking sites to see what dishes your friends have enjoyed in the past. Guests are also able to order food and request the bill via the iBeacon.

To enhance exhibitions and other educational experiences

When we first covered iBeacons on the FreshMinds blog in January, we predicted that one application of the technology would be to exhibitions and museums. In March, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York did just that, opening an iBeacon-enabled exhibition to replicate the experience of walking through a minefield. Visitors have to pass through the exhibition avoiding the iBeacons, each of which represents a landmine. If they get too close, the Bluetooth signal will trigger the sound of an explosion and a brief commentary from a landmine survivor. This demonstrates the broader implications of installing iBeacons in exhibitions and museums well– to provide additional commentary on specific objects, thereby enhancing the visitor experience.

To conduct market research

We’re yet to see this in action but we couldn’t finish this blog post without mentioning the application of iBeacons to market research – an area we’re experimenting with internally here at FreshMinds. iBeacons could transform the way we do in-store research. Using the technology it would be possible to send customers questions or tasks as they reach or indeed leave certain points in-store, allowing us to gain in-the-moment insight on everything from products to promotions.