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iBeacons – low hanging fruit or major omni-channel undertaking?

Posted by September 25, 2014
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There’s a lot of misunderstanding and mystery around iBeacons. Lots of people think they’re the next big thing, whilst others haven’t got a clue what they are. Luckily, our friends at BIMA hosted their monthly breakfast briefing today on the topic of ‘iBeacons and the retail experience’ where the audience were privy to three insightful presentations from Alex Sbardella (Head of Product at Red Ant), Simon Mahoney (Chairman at SMP, a leading shopper marketing agency) and Owen Geddes (Founder & CEO at Appflare).
First up was an introduction to iBeacons themselves and what they can do. It turns out they are very simple devices, and pretty cheap to boot. In themselves, they don’t really do anything. So, how do you use them?
Effectively they are just a conduit for information. If you have Bluetooth on (essential for their operation) it can detect exactly where you are and then enable a retailer to make things happen via your phone. So, you walk into a store, the iBeacon detects you and your phone pings with a message saying ‘welcome to’…..
Wait, no. Don’t do that. The first actionable thing we were told (time and again actually) was not to use iBeacons to simply push a notification. Which makes sense actually – you know where you are because you just chose to walk in there, so what use is the hello? All three presenters expressed the need to make sure any use of iBeacon technology is something that enhances the experience of the user.
Imagine if you were online and you looked at your favourite retailers website and found a pair of jeans, but they were out of stock. Oh well, off to bed. A few days later you walk past the same brand’s store and up pings a message saying those jeans you looked at are now in store, and here’s 5% discount for your troubles? Now you’re talking.
What if you walk into a theatre and your phone directs you straight to your seat – cool. Or how about you pick up a few bits at the supermarket, wander near a till and have all your discounts processed, your store points allocated and your payment made without even getting your phone out of your pocket? Big smiles all round!
As you can see, there are some really cool ways to start making iBeacons a genuinely effective tool – and all of the above are examples of real world use.
But what about their limitations?
For starters, you need to make sure people get Bluetooth switched on. Not too hard on Apple devices, pointed out one of the speakers, as they automatically turn Bluetooth on after you update iOS, but much harder with Android. Oh yeh, and then there’s the fact that Android isn’t officially supported.
And then there’s the creepy factor! Technically you could track a person all around your store and determine what they’re looking at. You could ping them deals on all your relevant stuff, right? But who wants to feel like they are being watched whilst doing their shopping? No more than one, maybe two interactions a day was the suggestion from the experts. Maybe up to four max if there was a really good reason.
The real killer though, if the consumer doesn’t have your app it simply isn’t going to happen (so that’s where your marketing spend needs to go, by the way).
So now that we understand what the technology does, and what things you can do and should avoid, you just need to determine who owns this new channel. Marketing? E-Commerce? The store itself?
This consideration takes us back to the title of this article – low hanging fruit or major omni-channel undertaking?
Well, we were reminded numerous times by all three speakers not to rely on it to just push useless notifications. I think that means it isn’t low hanging fruit!
And think about that first example I gave with the jeans – lots of people need to be involved with that. Marketing needs to deal with the copy and branding experience. Stock control needs to be consulted. E-Commerce needs to get the right analytics together to make the notification happen. The store itself needs to be aware that someone could walk in the door to claim the 5%.
For me, it is without a doubt a large scale undertaking for businesses to make real, tangible differences with iBeacon campaigns. I’m sure a few successes could be achieved quickly and easily, but to swing consumers round to be 100% comfortable with the idea of using them, retailers need to be innovative, forward thinking and 100% customer centric.
This blog post was originally posted on Propel, on the 25th September 2014 by Stuart McClure.
Speakers slides:

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