Retail’s Next Big Bet: iBeacon and the Promise of
- By Richard L. Tso
Advancements in mobile technologies have come a long way in recent years. When geo-location features first emerged on the scene with the introduction of Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp check-ins, industry analysts were skeptical about consumers broadcasting their locations and were uncertain about avenues for monetization. Despite these reservations, mobile geo-location has found a firm foothold in our social lives and has created an industry primed to help bridge digital communications with brick-and-mortar retail.
In December of last year, Apple debuted its iBeacon technology at its flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan to give shoppers the ability to receive customized messages about discounts, products and events available at that specific Apple Store location. And last week Duane Reade, the largest drugstore chain in New York City released the first update to its app for iPhone including the integration of iBeacon for 10-select Duane Reade locations active as of May 1.
“We know our busy, on-the-go customers have so much to take care of when shopping,” said Calvin Peters, Duane Reade’s PR & Digital Communications Manager. “When logging on to the iBeacon, the in-store mode screen gives the user access to the key items a shopper needs when in the store. From there, users will have the choice to use any of these features like browsing store items from the Shop icon and adding them to a shopping list. There’s also a floor map that displays an overhead view of the specific store location, in addition, iBeacon has a product locator will allow a user to search for an item and then plot that item on the in-store map.”
The technology behind iBeacon is quite unique to the retail world. iBeacon is a technology Apple introduced with iOS 7 that uses Bluetooth Low Energy and geo-fencing to provide apps a new level of micro-location awareness, such as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum or product displays in stores. The inclusion of this technology to the Duane Reade app adds features such as lock screen notifications when initially approaching a select Duane Reade store location, coupon offers based on historical data and product reviews for timely content at the point-of-decision. iBeacon will initially be available at 10-select Duane Reade stores in Manhattan to test the viability of a further rollout.
“iBeacon holds tremendous promise for the retail industry by providing a more customized approach to in-store shopping,” said Lisa Falzone, CEO and co-founder of iPad point-of-sale company Revel Systems. As the leading POS provider, we believe that personalizing shopping experiences starts at the point-of-sale through integrating loyalty programs, revolutionary payment methods like bitcoin and emerging technologies. We recently announced a partnership with Index, to harness the power of mobile to provide customers with personalized recommendations at the checkout line to foster deeper customer relationships.”
Similar to the Duane Reade implementation, the location-based retail technology company Point Inside utilizes a different brand-centric app approach to help retailers curate a highly personalized shopping experience for consumers. By utilizing Point Inside’s StoreMode mobile technology, large retailers like home improvement chain store Lowes are able to integrate features into their mobile apps to give consumers the ability to scan barcodes to build shopping lists, find nearby Lowes stores and even navigate people to the specific items then need in a particular store they visit.
“Point Inside partners with Top 100 retailers to enhance the way they communicate and engage with their shoppers – who overwhelmingly prefer to complete their purchases in physical stores,” said Pete Coleman, EVP and GM of StoreMode at Point Inside. “Lowe’s integrated our StoreMode platform into their digital platforms in 2013. The Lowe’s iPhone app, Android app, mobile website, and in-store kiosks all allow shoppers to locate products in-store, create shopping lists, and search store specific inventory to find products to complete home improvement projects faster. The Lowe’s app captures 100 million dynamic product locations that both customers and store associates can use to find products quickly and easily.”
A recent study released by mobile marketing company Swirl and independent marketing research firm ResearchNow that surveyed over 1000 consumers, 77 percent of respondents said they’d be fine with sharing location data in exchange for something valuable like a mobile coupon or digital offer. Swirl also found that 65 percent of consumers indicated they trust retail brands over general shopping apps and social platforms such as Google or Facebook when it comes to location data.
“Indoor location technologies including iBeacons provide a tremendous opportunity for drug stores to engage the shopper in-store through product location, item recommendations, and store-specific search,” said Coleman at Point Inside. “iBeacons can serve up relevant and contextual deals and promotions on seasonal items such as allergy medication in the spring, sunscreen in the summer months, and cold medication in the winter as customers explore the store. The broad range of use cases that modern drug stores must support to meet customers’ demanding expectations make drug store operators a natural partner for Point Inside.”
Point Inside expects that the line between in-store and online will continue to blur as retailers emphasize a seamless experience across all platforms. The company is already seeing a number of retailers actively re-assessing their current online experiences, which are presently designed as an endless aisle separate from any awareness or acknowledgement of stores. The rapid increase in smartphone app and mobile web usage is producing a dramatic re-orientation of online with store features, including product discovery and location integrated to the web.
When asked about the future of geo-location and advertising, Peters added, “I think you’ll see more retail businesses serious about engaging the customer of today, exploring the use of iBeacon technology. We’re all guilty of being attached to our phones and by using apps, customers will be able to scan through what they need, see what’s on sale, make reservations/appointments all custom-tailored to the individual.”
Coleman added, “Retail adoption of solutions like StoreMode and iBeacons will enable an unprecedented increase in personalized shopping experiences for customers. Dynamic, accurate, store-specific information will be delivered to the fingertips of store managers, who will be able to customize the merchandising and messaging of an individual store to provide a boutique feel for even the largest of chains. This personalization and information-based merchandising will allow retailers to maximize the advantage offered by the physical store experience, maximize a customer’s positive brand association and expand revenue generated per visit in the face of ongoing online competition.”
Richard L. Tso is a journalist covering the intersection of advertising, social media, technology and music.