Customer Connections: iBeacons Enhance the Retail Experience

I’m fascinated by the way retailers are deploying iBeacons in their stores. The opportunities to connect with customers are endless.

For starters, iBeacons can broadcast in a specific area of the store (unlike geofencing, which simply forms a large perimeter). An iBeacon near the front door can broadcast an electronic greeting to everyone with your store’s app on their smartphone. For low-price retailers, this is a great opportunity to offer an item coupon or one-day discount. Owners of high-end boutiques might simply welcome customers by name and thank them for returning.

The greeting serves another purpose, too—reminding customers they have the store’s app. This is important if they are part of the store’s rewards program, have a coupon they can use that day, or have a credit on their store account.

The beacon can also be set up to alert a staff person or manager that a frequent customer (or one who’s spent a certain amount in the past year) has walked through the door so they can greet them personally.

Delighting customers

Some large stores set up their iBeacons to automatically open the app as an electronic map to help customers find departments or items they’re looking for. Discounts and personal greetings are great, but helping a customer quickly find what they want and speed through check-out is often the best way to delight them. I see this having a huge impact on stores like Ikea and The Home Depot, where it can be tough to find what you’re looking for.

Now, imagine tying wayfinding into online shopping. Bob Smith walks in to a sporting good retailers’ front-door and the retailer’s app is alerted to the front door beacon. The app then alerts the backend system that Bob is now in the store. The system accesses Bill’s online shopping cart, sees a baseball glove was recently added to it, and generates a message asking Bill if he’d like directions to the baseball equipment aisle.

A similar process could take place without the shopping cart. For example, making a suggestion or offering a discount based on past buying history. (“Hi Bill! Did you know those khaki pants you bought a few months ago are on sale today?”) Or maybe the store’s website or app lets customers create a shopping list and displays a map showing the location of each item when they walk in the door.

Of course, as retailers, you have to remember that fine line between helpful and irritating. The more targeted the message, the better—and avoid sending so many that your customers turn off your store’s notifications.

Speaking of targeted, I’m excited about stores that are using knowledge of the customer’s location within the store to provide product information. Imagine you’re standing in an electronics store looking at high-end headphones and you launch the store’s app and the app knows you are in the headphone isle and can offer product information, a celebrity endorsement, recent reviews, or an offer to see which person in your social media circle bought the product you’re looking at within the last six months.

An electronic store replace interactive displays on the wall showing their products in use with a customer demo right on their own phone. When a customer enters a new store area, his/her phone will show product information and videos of products in action.

Power up

Here are a few things retailers should keep in mind as they take advantage of beacon-enabled marketing:

  1. Beacons should be invisible. Some retailers are experimenting with visible beacons. There are two problems with this approach. First, it negates the elegant nature of the invisible beacon. Second, visible beacons are a prime target for theft and can be hard to fit into store décor.
  2. Beacons should plug into the store’s power source. Some beacons run on batteries, which is convenient right up to the moment the battery runs out.
  3. Beacons should be carefully tuned. The one in the men’s department should not broadcast so loudly that it spills into the checkout area. Be aware that some brands of beacons are easier to set up and adjust than others.

And don’t forget the checkout area. Retailers can streamline payments by broadcasting a “Check out now” message to lock screens. When the customer slides open the message, it opens to the store account or a special barcode to be scanned by the cashier. It’s fast and convenient—just what you want your customers to remember about their shopping experience.