Reinvigorating retail with iBeacons

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The idea of being targeted with ads depending on where you are in a store may strike shoppers as intrusive, but it’s likely retailers are too excited to notice. And if they’re not excited, they should be. iBeacons are small, bluetooth transmitting devices built by third-party manufacturers to fit Apple specifications. They allow retailers to gather valuable behavioural data and even send specific messages directly to a shopper’s phone.

Say you’re in a department store, standing in front of a pair of shiny new shoes, umming and ahhing about whether or not you need them. That retailer can draw information, like how long you’ve been in that area, then serve messages to the apps you’re using. If you’re a registered customer with that store, it could even message a special discount voucher to your phone, persuading you to buy the shoes there and then. You can never have too many pairs, right?

Mobile apps listen for signals from iBeacons, and react by sending contextual messages to your phone. The technology relies on apps to collect data and then push relevant information to customers through pre-designed messages, both while in-store and out. It’s not limited to iOS devices either – this feature works with Android and other smartphones too.

There is one iOS-only feature that allows iPhones, iPads or iPods to become iBeacons themselves. This gives retailers the ability to gain real-time customer insights and collect data on people’s movements and shopping behaviours. They’ll know where customers are, what they’re looking at, when they’re looking at it and how long for. In essence, it lets retailers track customers from the moment they walk in the store to the second they leave. This data is invaluable, and can be used to influence everything from the business' marketing strategies to in-store product positioning.

When it comes to developing retail messages for iBeacons, it’s important not to settle for a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The content must be relevant and meaningful – personalisation is key if the communication is to add any value to the shopping experience. The retail industry is a battleground and brands are always looking for new ways to talk to shoppers. iBeacons allow them to engage with customers throughout the in-store experience – and then maintain subtle conversations long after they’ve left the store. It’s the meeting point between online and in-store that retailers need to harness. We’re used to tracking user journeys and habits online and serving targeted content based on this. Now we can convert that same digital experience to the real life shop floor.

Australian retailers could be using iBeacons more effectively to build their business and marketing strategies. The technology is constantly evolving, as is the mobile and visual merchandising space. At an extremely affordable price tag, it’s something retailers can’t afford not to do.

The opportunities aren’t limited to the retail space either. At this year’s SXSW festival (did we mention we’re speaking there?) there’ll be over a thousand iBeacons across 265 Austin venues, sending location-specific messages and helping attendees connect with one another.

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