Why iBeacons will transform the customer experience

You’ve just finished admiring a new TV in your favourite department store and head off towards the escalator vowing to pop online later and order it. Your phone buzzes in your pocket. You pull it out and there’s a notification offering you a 10% discount if you order a TV in-store today. You’re sold and click the button to confirm the transaction. You are asked if you would like to take it with you now or have it delivered for when you get home.

Thanks to iBeacons, this sort of customer experience is now possible and easier to achieve than ever before.

Why have iBeacons emerged?

We all have context

At any point in time each of us has a context – where we are, what we are doing, what emotional state we’re in, what we’re thinking about, etc. As a marketer the more you know about a consumer’s context the more likely you are to be able to craft an experience that will yield the outcome you are seeking – be it buying your product, improving your perception of the brand, provoking a future return visit. Your objectives will vary but the right experience in the right context will yield the right result.

GPS is not good enough

Location is a critical component of context. If you are looking for a curry house it makes much more sense to start by showing you ones that are near your current location. If you’re a coffee shop owner and someone is using your app it would be great to know if that person is currently in one of your stores. GPS is rarely accurate enough – with open sky they can locate you to within around 3m. Even in a best case scenario, that margin of error may make the difference between you being in a coffee shop or in the neighbouring clothes store. What about NFC? NFC is the technology that contact less payment cards and Oyster use. NFC only works over very short distances – you need to make a deliberate physical action to interact with a NFC touch point.

Passive versus active triggering

The other challenge is a consumer must normally actively seek an interaction before you can engage with them. For example, they need to open your app. As a marketer it would be much better if you could make their phone buzz as they enter the shop and when they pull it out they are presented with a special offer on their favourite coffee. As a consumer such interactions will be optional so that you can opt-in or switch them off if you’re not interested.

iBeacons solve these twin challenges as they have two critical capabilities:

  • Geolocation – they can locate you precisely within an indoor environment
  • Geofencing – arrival or departure from a location can trigger interactions on your mobile device

How do iBeacons work in practice?

We recently took delivery of an Estimote Developers kit, which includes three cute iBeacons. Each beacon acts like a mini lighthouse. You can stick them anywhere you like and they transmit a signal advertising their presence to any BLE devices in the vicinity. BLE is low energy Bluetooth and all iPhones have supported it since the iPhone 4S. Android devices are lagging somewhat but we expect them to catch up soon.

Estimotes are not connected to the internet, they do not detect phones that are near them. It is up to the phone to detect which beacons are near it which it reports to the relevant apps running on the phone. Typical triggers are when someone gets close to a beacon or when they depart the area. You can also detect how close they are to the beacon. The phone is the internet enabled device that can figure out to respond to these events.

Example applications could be:

  • Market research

    Tracking movements within a store or triggering questions when the shopper arrives at a particular aisle

  • In-store interactions

    Promotions and other interactions triggered by customer behaviour. If a customer spends a long time in the same place or appears to be hunting for an assistant maybe trigger an appropriate alert to them or a member of staff

  • Loyalty rewards

    You no longer need to rely on active check-ins to register visits. Repeat visits can be rewarded with fantastic opportunities to surprise and delight.

  • Exhibitions and museums

    Visit and guide apps can operate more precisely and can more easily take into account your behaviour as you explore

  • Transport

    iBeacons do not need to be fixed to static locations. They can be fixed to anything. If an iBeacon was fixed to every bus your travel app could register when you get on and off a bus, updating a central database and enabling a highly detailed picture of the current state of public transport to be cost effectively generated.

There are many more but hopefully these give you a flavour of what will become possible. We are busily experimenting with our Estimotes, prototyping some of these scenarios to see how well they work in practice.

What applications do you think iBeacons could be used for? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.