Beacons: The Technology Darling that Will Change the Way You Shop

Beacons are the latest technological darling positioned to reshape the consumer experience in retail. But are they just a fad?

Like their precursors with similar promises such as augmented reality, QR codes and geofencing, the success of beacons will depend the adoption rate of consumers. They do present some pretty interesting opportunities for consumers and marketers. Here’s a look at what beacons are, why the tech industry is excited about them and what opportunities they present for the future.

The reason you may have heard a bit about Beacons lately is attributed to Apple who made significant updates to their iBeacon technology in iOS7. However beacons have been around for quite some time and already brands and stores like Macy’s, PayPal and Major League Baseball are already experimenting with them.

Beacons work like this. Imagine you’re shopping at a department store and there are squillions of people around rummaging through the racks. The moment you walk into the store a notification is sent to your phone informing you of the available brands on your favorites list that are available at that very store. Even better than that, another notification pushes you live inventory data to you to let you know the styles that are available in your size. It will also tell you where exactly in the store those garments are hanging so you can cut the time you’d spend rummaging through those racks with the rest of the squillions of people shopping. That’s beacons.

Beacons bridge the gap between online and offline retail shopping feeding your data to retailers and vice-versa to create better ways of shopping.

They are bluetooth enabled pieces of hardware discreet enough to attach to a wall or counter and transmit messages to other bluetooth devices like smartphones and tablets. And because they use bluetooth they are low-energy and battery friendly. They provide a way for devices to communicate with each other indoors, where GPS receivers are limited. Meaning they can pinpoint down to the floor level and aisle, your location. With that kind of information, a retailer can send promotions on products that could be at your eye level.

Apple has beacons in iOS7 and with over 80 percent of Apple devices running now on iOS7, your phone probably already includes trackable beacon technology.

Beacons in the retail sector are currently getting the most attention for their use for cashless transactions and promotions. But they could provide some other really interesting uses for event organizers and transit systems. They’d have great use at:

  • Music festivals: to move people throughout the grounds to the shortest lines for bathrooms and bars.
  • Airports: to send gate information and flight updates straight to you while you’re killing time reading magazines at Hudson News.
  • Art galleries: to can send artist information and price details on the very work you’re perusing.

The opportunities for this local, real-time targeting technology is endless. We can’t wait to see where the use of beacons will take us. Will businesses find ways to actually improve customer experiences using technology? Or are beacons only a marketers dream, pushing local ads and discounts?

The Skillcrush verdict? The future is bright! And anything that could make Black Friday shopping less painful comes greatly appreciated.