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What's your brand doing about Beacons?

Even though iBeacon technology has been around since 2013, retailers have universally failed to leverage the sizeable benefits this brilliant point-to-point transmitter innovation can deliver. Beacons enable retailers to capitalise on actionable data like never before; data which, if used creatively, can drive an enhanced experience for in-store customers as well as increasing loyalty and engagement.

One of the obvious downsides of beacon technology is that it relies on customers downloading and using a dedicated smartphone app. It begs the question, if a retailer invested time, budget and energy in creating a polished mobile app, was an equivalent amount of energy expended in establishing features that customers would use habitually and see as beneficial?

Only a handful of mobile apps make it onto the coveted ‘lifestyle critical’ list. They're the apps that we feel compelled to use as soon as we get up in the morning. The shortlist for most include weather, banking, social, news and instant messaging apps. The rest have to demonstrate some kind of significant benefit to remain on the world's most exclusive real estate: Our smartphone 'desktop'.

Honing the application benefit message

Retailers need to have a sense of urgency, get creative and be persuasive to ensure that their customers understand the value in downloading and installing their app. Why the urgency? Because customers will only install and use apps that they see as being beneficial to their daily lives, and there is a glass ceiling of apps they will want to have on their smartphones using up those treasured Gigabytes. If the app wins the hearts and minds of customers, then there are serious competitive gains to be seized.

Having persuaded customers to install their app, the second biggest challenge retailers face is convincing consumers that they should say yes to the inevitable 'enable notifications' prompt. It’s carefully engineered notifications that will provide customers much of the tangible value when used in conjunction with a beacon-enabled shopping environment. Retailers should leverage expertise from software technologists to understand, plan and deliver an integrated mobile app & beacon solution into stores.

So what to do with beacons?

Intelligent in-store digital promotion is an obvious use case within a beacon strategy. With beacons elegantly triggering on screen app notifications on timely, relevant offers. The served content is perceived as beneficial and could be determined by the customer's proximity, how long they have been in a particular zone, what has been previously purchased, and what the average spend has been in recent visits.

House of Fraser has experimented with connected Mannequins in its Aberdeen store, providing customers with actual product information and pricing if the customer is within triggering range of the enabled mannequin. The served content also directs the customer to the product location and suggests complementary purchases. Over one hundred Regent Street stores including Gap, Burberry, Banana Republic and Hamleys are already utilising beacons to serve offers to shoppers who have installed the Regent Street shopping app. In the US, Macy’s uses beacon enabled environments with Shopkick to engage and enhance customer experiences in store, with alerts pushing recommendations, discounts and deals.

Savvy retailers will also have apps designed by specialist software development agencies to benefit in-store employees, especially departmental managers. These apps will proliferate into the store environment with beacon triggered notifications served directly to a wearable device such as the Apple Watch, manifesting as an on-face alert. Any combination of alerts could be triggered based upon what is important to the store manager at that given point in time, from the arrival of high value, highly social customers, to the coming and going of in-store employees. Managers would be seamlessly alerted as employees cut through beaconed zones during their working day. All of this rich data would be harvested and could then be reported-upon at the push of a button for further analysis.

Retailers need to think long and hard about their mobile app. The app is the key that unlocks the door to an effective in-store beacon strategy. If customers don't see value in installing and using the brand's app, then all of the budget sunk into expensive UX design, journey planning and developing, as well as actual software development is entirely wasted because an effective beacon strategy is umbilically reliant on customers downloading, installing, keeping and perceiving the brand's mobile app as lifestyle beneficial.