MediaPost recently had a conference on Beacons in Chicago. Here are some highlights for the Making Beacons Work session:
Presenter: Greg Ratner, Director of Technology, Deep Focus
In the latest report, almost one-third of the top 100 retailers are planning on launching beacons in 2015 and in 2018, reports are predicting 4.5 million beacons being deployed. Out of those 4.5 million, 3.5 million will be used for retail.
What are beacons? Beacons are a type Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy. In essence it’s the same type of Bluetooth that is used for wireless speakers, but is a communication device and together with a battery to power the device, it admits a three-part ID. This ID is what the consumer gives to the developer of the beacon for tracking devices. Beacons come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, is smaller than a hockey puck and can be placed on the ceiling. To know what beacons are, one must know what they are not; beacons are not smart devices, not a platform that can deploy software or send messages back and forth, not a location device and are not secure. What it can do is announce their presence similar to a Wi-Fi router, give a name and location and also how far a consumer is from any given beacon (immediate, near or far based on signal strength).
Mr. Ratner described beacons as “digital sticky notes” or a digital markers. This is useful because it enables such capabilities as: indoor mapping, connecting offline and online and sends very location based offers and tactical messages when people walk by a physical area of the store. Beacons are also turbo chargers. The apps are more powerful, more interesting, more personalized but if the app is not delivering a use by itself then bacons cannot help the store.
Beacons are very useful but do have some limitations such as:
- Marketing: need to start with a large distribution of the app because a lot of people will not download the app or are unable to tap into a third party distribution therefore, your range of consumers will be from a very small group to begin with.
- Phones: phones have two modes for interaction: ranging and rimming/monitoring. Ranging is when the app is up and running on a phone, a consumer walks by a beacon and they receive a message. Rimming/monitoring is when the app is not open so when a consumer walks by a beacon, it can take up to 15 minutes for the app to pick up the beacon, leading to a poor customer experience. To avoid a bad personal experience, make sure the message are not time sensitive.
- Connectivity: most of the time the app does all of the work by talking to the server. When there is no cell service and the app cannot talk to the server, the app will not receive the message because the apps need a Wi-Fi connection.
- Secure: beacons are not secure so keep that in mind when designing apps and if the message relies on security, add a daily code or a second verification mode for more security
- Battery Life: beacons are powered by batteries. Since there is no way for a beacon to send a message to the server, there’s no way of knowing when the battery dies besides having a third-party monitoring system or walking in and making sure it’s working properly. When the battery does die, a technician has to come and replace the battery which can get expensive
- Range/Calibration: this is similar to a cordless phone. Without testing the range and calibration of each beacon, it can lead to a bad customer experience. For example, if these both were not tested on site, a customer can be in the middle of two beacons and receive two message. IOS can only monitor 20 beacons per location
What’s next for beacons? Beacons known as super beacons. They will have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth which will give them the capability of talking to devices and connecting with devices remotely. The deployment of the super beacon will be able to communicate with the server and can monitor other beacons that go offline to add an internal monitoring system. With the super beacon, cloud management will be available and eventually a mesh beacon will be able to talk and send messages to other beacons. This can lead to measuring velocity.
The first step is to design an app with failure in mind and have a back-up plan. Always having a graceful fallback when beacons are not available so assure a good customer service if something does go wrong.
Watch the video for more details.