Apple's iBeacon solution is proliferating much faster than expected as the company sets the foundations for its next retail revolution.
The Apple relationship
It matters that Apple's other retail-focused solutions -- Apple Pay, TouchID and iOS devices, including Apple Watch, mean the company now sits at the center of both online and offline relationships between consumers and retailers. This is going to become even more critical as Apple continues to disrupt consumer culture.
Retailers are all over the technology:
Macy's, Lord & Taylor and The Bay are using beacons, while Starwood Hotels & Resorts (of the famously iPad-using CEO) use it in around 30 hotels. Hillshire Brands used beacons in 10 U.S. cities to track shopper behavior in supermarkets.
The rate of adoption is rapid -- far more rapid than recognized.
Retailers must avoid overexposure when deploying beacons. As these become more pervasive, consumers may find themselves hit by too many messages, and will eventually switch beacons off.
"We will come to a time when there are too many irrelevant messages firing at consumers," warns Puneet Mehta, CEO of Mobile ROI. "In 2015, brands have to not only adopt beacons into their stores, but must clearly articulate the benefit consumers will get for...beacon communication."
There are interesting implementations beyond retail:
Nivea recently embedded ‘beacon bracelets’ in a magazine advertisement in the Brazilian newsweekly magazine Veja. These were functional bracelets Veja readers could use with Nivea’s accompanying phone app to help them track their children's whereabouts on the beach.
Beacons were also deployed at Sao Paulo 's biggest furniture fair, ForMobile, to guide people to the event and to share hello and goodbye messages as visitors entered and departed.
In the UK, Barclays is using the technology to help staff identify and provide help to branch customers with accessibility needs. And the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, Wales, is using beacons to let visitors discover more about the exhibits they see.
Latin America’s largest online fashion retailer, Dafiti, hopes to use the technology in a slightly more engaging way. It hopes to share contextually appropriate fashion and style tips with people using public spaces; for example, it may beam messages about outdoor fashion to people wandering in local parks. “We want to increase the relevance of our mobile platforms for our customers," said Malte Huffmann, Dafiti co-founder and MD.
A cut in sales
Context will become critical. The attempt to strengthen customer relationships will require that retailers remain relevant -- simply being in the location won't be sufficient. The beacon messages must deliver something the recipient really needs in order to avoid being seen as supermarket spam.
The need to develop compelling content to promote Beacon services is about to become even more mandatory. The Bluetooth SIG recently adopted a new core spec that means beacons will be unable to engage with Bluetooth smartphones without explicit user permission. This means you will not be subject to ads unless you provide retailers permission to do so.
As you can see, the Apple-championed technology is making rapid strides in deployment. In a retail environment increasingly dominated by new Apple enemy Amazon, this could be critical. Apple's Steve Jobs saw it coming, of course, back in 1996 when he told Wired the Web would be: "more than publishing. It's commerce. People are going to stop going to a lot of stores. And they're going to buy stuff over the Web!"
Now the hope appears to be that when they do buy that stuff, they'll do it via Apple in some way. And the computer company will take a cut.
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