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**.
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.
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.
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.