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  • The Beacon Evolution

    By Michael Witte

    Beacons. Simple little devices, some as small as quarters, with untold potential. Since the launch of iBeacon from Apple in 2013 and Eddystone from Google in 2015, the retail and hospitality industries have been using this technology to understand the movements and behaviors of virtually everyone that wields a smart device.

    Many Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR's) are including this technology to help educate and interact with their customers to gain valuable marketing information. Once your smart phone is within range of the beacons, customers could be presented with a survey, new product information, and or a coupon. Combining beacons with loyalty apps can allow for a very personal interaction and an excellent customer experience. For example: "Hi Mr. Smith, will you be having the cranberry walnut salad today with dressing on the side?""

    The big box retail space has jumped into the beacon expansion as well. You may have noticed your local Target has been going through a total remodel. Part of this transformation is updating the lighting fixtures to LED with built-in beacon technology. Target plans to have beacons in 56% of their stores by Thanksgiving. This has opened up capabilities to move away from static, mapped items to a dynamic in-store map that is completely integrated to their main Target app. How does it work? The customer fires up the app and open the store map to see where they are - by simply tapping a product the can quickly find the product in relation to where they are standing. Target is also using this technology by featuring on-sale products that are in the proximity to the customer. These beacons are marketing gold. Knowledge of what the individual customers are looking for, how they are travel through the store, how often they purchase searched products, and many other opportunities to understand their consumer habits. This opens up the potential to retool labor models allowing the technology to drive service and drive efficiencies with the staffing footprint or in product display.

    The Potential Downsides

    Ever look at your Facebook feed or hit a google search and low and behold, there is the item sitting in an advertisement that you just happened to searching for the other day? For some consumers, it provides discomfort that search activities are being tracked so closely. While the expansion of this technology is undoubtedly a marketer's paradise, there is a strong risk to overestimate the customer interaction and end up driving the customer away by overselling products, punching them with ads, and turning a tool that is designed to enhance the customer experience and the brand image into a frustration point. This could actually take the technological progress backwards by detracting users from opening up the apps with this technology. There is a careful balance and the industry is best suited to look at its interaction through the lens of the customer to increase adoption of the technologies.

    The possibilities are endless

    The advancement has spawned so many other opportunities to utilize this technology, all the way from being able to find your child's soccer game in a sea of soccer fields, to push notifications that give you the history of a museum exhibit as you walk by - it is truly amazing how we can access information and positively benefit. Solar powered beacons released last year open up easy, cost effective installations at parks and other points of interest. Inventory tracking is expanding by using beacon stickers which is an inexpensive approach to tracking, especially with an average 2 year battery life. With the healthy competition between various platforms, including open source platforms such as AltBeacon, the coming years are sure to be exciting!

    An important element of beacons is supporting the existing infrastructure – ensuring the beacons are performing optimally and that customers have the proper support to understand their features is key to the continued expansion of new applications and building the customer portfolio. Premier support companies such as SEI Information Technology have been working with QSR industry and have increased their infrastructure to meet the demands of hardware support and customer contact to support devices and customer interaction. Over the next year, beacon shipments are expected to triple and over 4.5 million locations across the U.S. will have some form of the beacon technology with nearly 80% in retail stores.