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iBeacon: major retail opportunity or major flop?

Posted on 30 Jun 2017 in , ,

Every few years, a technology will come along that’s seen as revolutionary for retail. One of the more recent ones was the iBeacon. Only a couple of years ago, it was hailed as the best thing since sliced bread. Apple created this technology which allows mobile apps to spot when an iPhone is close to a wireless sensor known as an iBeacon (there are other versions of the tech). The beacon sends data to the iPhone using Bluetooth Low Energy. The iPhones can also send data back to the beacon. While iBeacons were originally seen as the potential saviour of the high street, two years on and they’re still not the norm, as was predicted by many. However, things are changing again: “By the first quarter of 2016, 6.2 million sensors had been deployed globally. When the second quarter rolled around, 2 million more had popped up, bringing the global total to 8.27 million. At the current pace of installation, 400 million will be broadcasting globally by 2020.”

Looks like the tide is turning for the iBeacon, but is it everything it’s cracked up to be? Let’s explore some of the pros and cons for retailers…

For

Simplify mobile payments

Anything that simplifies the ability to pay is a great thing for retailers, right? iBeacons can make receiving payments by mobile much easier.

Boost customer loyalty

iBeacons allow retailers to cross the boundary between the virtual world and the real one. With the rise and rise of internet shopping, there’s a growing need for retailers to create more inviting ways to draw shoppers into their store. iBeacons can help retailers to create more exciting experiences and boost customer loyalty.

Personalise the shopping experience

We think personalisation is going to be one of the big markers of the retail winners of the near future. iBeacons can create more personalised experiences for shoppers by sending them information that is totally targeted to them, based on data about their shopping habits. This contextual relevance has loads of potential for boosting sales and customer loyalty. Evolving customer expectations could make iBeacons a major advantage for brands. Recent research shows that shoppers are: “More than four times more likely to indicate they’d like retailers to know exactly who they are right when they walk in the door via technology like iBeacons (47% of millennials feel this way vs. 11% of boomers)”.

More customer insight

Every retailer wants to get to know their customers better. iBeacons have the potential to provide retailers with plenty of detailed information. With iBeacon technology, brands can uncover highly valuable data like how long their customers spend in their shops, which aisles they look at most and more.

Against

Big brother alert!

Probably the first thing many people ask about the iBeacon is whether it’s just allowing Big Brother in via their mobile. This is especially true for customers who don’t fully understand the technology, which is many of them. iBeacons ask for permission and once the user has accepted the request, they can install all kinds of things on a person’s phone. No wonder there are some serious privacy concerns around this tech.

User adoption block

As with all innovations, user adoption is everything. And this seems to have been one of the biggest blocks to the success of the iBeacon so far. The bottom line is that people have to be comfortable with getting set up on the technology to begin with. As an article in Campaign comments: Though many agree the technology shows promise, no one has yet definitively cracked the code on how to use it in a way that can offer value for shoppers without creeping them out or annoying them with too many notifications.”

Technical challenges

Let’s not forget that the iBeacon involves some complex technology. If it fails, it could end up actually undermining your brand: “Managing a network of beacons can also pose multiple challenges. The limited range of BLE devices may mean many beacons are required to fully cover a large area…. Beacon implementations costs aren’t always affordable, either.” (Source: cio.com).

Money drain

iBeacons are a potential budget drain for retailers. Is it possible for brands to fully assess the risks before they invest in the technology? Perhaps not, which makes it a questionable proposition for some types of retailers. A lot will depend on each retailer’s scope and audience.

What’s your view?

What’s your take on the iBeacon? Do you think it’s the next big thing or due to be a monumental flop for retailers? Let us know in the comments box below!

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