Picture the scene: you go into a shop and receive a message on your smartphone: it’s the shop welcoming you and giving information about the latest special offers. A little later, while you’re browsing, another notification comes: a discount voucher for the very product you’re looking at. This is no longer the stuff of a Marketing Director’s dream: thanks to beacon technology, it’s now possible.
Beacons are indoor positioning systems that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to communicate with nearby devices. Very popular with retailers, who use them to notify customers about special offers or personalise the shopping experience, they came – until recently – in the shape of a little device, but London-headquartered marketing software specialists SmartFocus have launched the virtual beacon, which doesn’t require installing any physical infrastructure.
FROM THE ibeacon TO THE virtuAl Beacon
Apple first introduced the technology when it launched the iBeacon back in 2013 and sold it in the US Apple Stores. The little transmitter could send push notifications to customers’ mobile devices, provided they’d installed the iBeacon program (included in the latest iOS updates) and activated Bluetooth.
The iBeaconsin Apple Stores inspired retailers such as the Macy’s department store chain and clothing brand American Eagle to roll out Shopkick’s shopBeacon. In France, companies such as the Carrefour hypermarket chain and PMU, the state-owned chain of betting shops, were the first to deploy the technology. The PMU found a rather inventive use for it during the World Cup in 2014: beacons installed in its partner restaurants and bars sent users of the PMU app a notification inviting them to bet on matches.
To address this growing demand, companies from giants such as Orange to startups like French outfit Ubudu are coming up with offers. In terms of hardware, whereas indoor positioning used wireless, low-energy sensors, SmartFocus’ new virtual beacons could make these obsolete. With no physical hardware to install, no maintenance, it’s entirely virtual: as SmartFocus’ MD Xavier Banti explains:
“Algorithms measure fluctuations in the magnetic field via sensors in smartphones. No other mapping technology can get the same results, using just a basic store map and without requiring a physical infrastructure.”
AN ASSET FOR RETAILERS
With SmartFocus’ new virtual beacon, part of its cloud-based marketing suite, brand marketers have a holistic view of their customers, enabling them to deliver even more personalised marketing interactions. Whilst small local shopkeepers pride themselves on knowing the faces and tastes of their most loyal customers, beacons, whether virtual or physical, once connected to a marketing app can identify a customer who only came once, several months ago to buy a single item and send them a special offer related to the initial purchase. If this sounds alarming, it should be noted that customers have to opt in to the geolocation service for retailers to be able to track them and target them with recommendations, rewards or special offers.