It’s no secret that mar­keters are strug­gling to imple­ment an effec­tive omni-channel approach with their cus­tomers. It’s not just the increas­ing num­ber of dig­i­tal touch points between brands and cus­tomers mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for mar­keters to keep a sin­gle view of the cus­tomer, but it’s also a chal­lenge to align customer’s dig­i­tal inter­ac­tions with their phys­i­cal pres­ence in stores.

An emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy, called prox­im­ity bea­cons, can help mar­keters get a full view of the cus­tomers by con­nect­ing the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal worlds. Bea­cons are small and cheap devices that can be pow­ered for years by a sin­gle coin cell bat­tery. They can inter­act wire­lessly (using a wire­less tech­nol­ogy such as Blue­tooth® Smart, which is some­times called Blue­tooth Low Energy) with mobile devices by show­ing noti­fi­ca­tion mes­sages and mak­ing apps aware of their prox­im­ity to the mobile user. The buzz around bea­cons comes from recent news by Apple that announced the iBea­con prod­ucts and intro­duced sup­port in iOS7, and Google fol­low­ing up by adding Blue­tooth Smart sup­port with Android 4.3, although a few com­pa­nies like Esti­mote or Kon­takt had already started to make and sell their Blue­tooth bea­cons. The com­bi­na­tion of bea­cons, smart­phones and mobile apps is poten­tially very pow­er­ful for mar­keters. After all, 95% of com­merce still occurs in the store* and 79% of shop­pers who own a smart­phone use their phones while in a phys­i­cal store**.

beacon

The most promis­ing oppor­tu­nity that bea­cons offer to mar­keters is to bridge the gap between dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal chan­nels, which is the main chal­lenge to estab­lish­ing an omni-channel mar­ket­ing strat­egy. By tying dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion to phys­i­cal places, mar­keters can finally obtain a sin­gle view of the cus­tomer between online and offline, and offer an excel­lent buy­ing expe­ri­ence along the entire cus­tomer jour­ney and across all pos­si­ble inter­ac­tion means (dig­i­tal and physical).

In retail stores bea­cons can turn a mobile app into a vir­tual per­sonal shop­ping assis­tant that wel­comes the cus­tomer at the front door and offer help with rec­om­men­da­tions, detailed and up to date infor­ma­tion on prod­ucts in the nearby, coupon­ing and dis­counts tar­geted to their pref­er­ences and buy­ing pro­file, up to dynamic pric­ing and even pay­ments with­out queu­ing, as Pay­Pal has recently announced.customer-journey

Some big retail­ers have started to exper­i­ment with bea­cons. Walk­ing into Macy’s stores in New York or San Fran­cisco cus­tomers auto­mat­i­cally get noti­fi­ca­tions on their iPhones from a shop­ping app which can make spe­cial­ized offers depend­ing on where they are in the store. Apple has also installed iBea­cons in all its own retail stores in the US to drive mar­ket­ing cam­paigns through the Apple Store app.

Think of the oppor­tu­nity to push con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion to cus­tomers while they’re shop­ping and to con­nect prox­im­ity data to a sin­gle client pro­file as if they were shop­ping online. This let brands offer a unique cus­tomer expe­ri­ence by push­ing highly tar­geted and valu­able con­tents to a vis­i­tor, influ­enc­ing behav­iors and deci­sions, increas­ing con­ver­sion and reduc­ing the risk of showrooming.

shopping-experience

And this is just the begin­ning as the pos­si­bil­i­ties offered by beacon-enhanced retail loca­tions are end­less and they will influ­ence brands to rethink and redesign cus­tomer jour­neys. But not just for big retail­ers: a bea­con costs between 30 and 75 € and it’s all it takes to get ana­lyt­ics from shop­ping pref­er­ences, make prod­uct rec­om­men­da­tions and offer dis­counts to cus­tomers even in a small shop. And in a few years they will become sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper as their pop­u­lar­ity grows.

There is still much to explore and we’ll cover more details, expe­ri­ences and use cases for other indus­tries. Stay tuned as big new oppor­tu­ni­ties for dig­i­tal mar­keters are just behind the cor­ner, or bet­ter… they’re already inside the store!

* Q4-2013 data accord­ing to US Cen­sus Bureau. Sim­i­lar fig­ures apply to Europe.

** Accord­ing to “Mobile in-store research”, Google, April 2013

♦ Images cour­tesy of Esti­mote Inc.