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Beacons’ Next Step: Bringing ‘Online’ to the Real World, Getting Personal


In 2013, to much hype and social media fanfare, Apple introduced the iBeacon into their iOS with release 4.0. Then everything went quiet, mostly because very few applications for the technology exist, and not enough developers understood the unlimited potential of the technology.

The beacon is dependent on a data network to communicate with the smart device, and obviously the network has to be present in order for it to work. The other dependency is simply the applications which allows for delivery of the interactive material to the end user, your customers, with the smartphone. A simple communications device, it allows interaction between a smartphone and the beacon application server. Its uses in the real world are only limited by the applications that we can imagine.

Most of the applications we have seen so far deliver non-personalized information to the user, such as the distribution of coupons from coupon remarketers like Retail Me Not. Other uses pass information to the user, much like what Cleveland Cavaliers used in last year’s Championship games for an enhanced fan experience. And in some healthcare facilities, patient information is delivered to tablet devices as physicians and caretakers stop at each patient’s bed, but again, without knowing who is receiving the information.

GameStop: At GameStop, beacon passes information and coupons for games that shoppers come close to, but without knowing anything about the customer, other than a smartphone with the right app is in the area of the beacon. So the next step is for beacon, with all applications, is to get more personal.

If the beacon knew more than just the where and when, then the opportunities to better serve the end user expands. What if the application knew about the user, the users buying habits, interest and preferred experience? Then the messages to the smart device can be more targeted, more personalized and more meaningful to the customer.

Let’s take an example that’s retail focused -- say a customer walks into a store. The beacon establishes communication with their smartphone, either through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and knows, within 3 feet, the location of your customer and how long they’ve been standing in any spot. What you do with that information and the opportunity to unobtrusively communicate with your customer is all up to you and limited only by the app you develop. The interaction can be simple, such as a welcome message. Or it could be more extensive, like delivering detailed information or a measured, personalized message that gives just the right amount of incentive for your customer to physically grab that item and take it up to the cash register.

Limitations: The limitations of the apps developed so far are obvious and boil down to the fact that these applications don’t know who the end user is. All they know is the location of the mobile device, the location of the beacon and how long the mobile device has been paired to the beacon.

This allows for some limited communication with the end user, according to what the marketers want; but without knowing who the customer is, and what she or he likes. And the message may not be what the customer wants.

If you shop online, the applications know all about you. They know when you visited last, what products you are interested in, your order history, and what you’re likely to buy, and they make suggestions and incentives accordingly. What if, through beacon, that same personalized ‘online’ experience, that many customers rely on, could be duplicated in your brick-and-mortar store? The potential of a better customer experience in the physical world materializes.

The ideas and concepts are without limits. When Beacon is integrated with other customer facing information systems, like CRMs or Ecommerce Systems, it enables a new level of end-user engagement ‘offline,’ in the real world. The virtual experience enters the physical world. Beacon allows for an enhanced customer engagement in the physical space. Essentially it brings the digital experience in the aisle.

There are several beacon manufacturers, but two of the largest and most notable are Gimbal and Zebra Technology. Gimbal is a spin-off of Qualcomm while Zebra purchased the former Motorola Solutions Group from Google a couple of years ago. Though the technology is readily available, what is much harder to find are the right developers with the right ideas to integrate what you already know about your customers, audience, or patients and bring it to the reality of the physical world so that whatever industry you’re in, you can enhance their experience.

Sam Cinquegrani is founder and CEO of ObjectWave Corp., a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].

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