Brick-and-mortar store locations are declining — and online retail continues to devour market share. Could Apple's iBeacon technology be the catalyst that slows the slide of traditional stores or even stops their predicted demise?
It’s no secret the majority of physical retail locations have trouble competing with online retailers. There are a number or reasons why, including convenience, selection and price. But iBeacon might be in a position to level the playing field.
Just by itself, iBeacon is an interesting technology. It takes advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), thereby allowing users to be alerted by their mobile device when they come within range of the iBeacon. Like anything in the Internet of Things (IoT) realm, the device itself is only half the fun.
The data it can capture and the benefit it can bring the end user are where we see the real bang for our buck.
What's the Benefit?
It is easy to see where iBeacon would fit into a retail environment in a way that can benefit both the retailer and the customer. And Apple, which owns the indoor proximity system, must agree. Just this week, it was reported that Apple incorporated what appears to be new iBeacon functionality into iOS 8, making the process of proximity-aware app and content pushes passive and more discovery oriented.
So how will it work? Customers are notified when they are near specific products. Retailers can then track location information to see how customers move about the store. That information alone can be a gold mine. But it can be taken a step further.
Think of those little items like candy and chewing gum that are placed in front of the cash register at retail locations. Those 'impulse buys' are put there because retailers understand we have no choice but to look at them while we are waiting to check out.
Many of us, myself included, are guilty of breaking down and buying that candy bar. I mean, why not? It’s there and I want it.
Now iBeacon can help to create similar experiences for customers as they shop.
Retailers are already able to analyze customer purchase histories, thanks to those loyalty cards many of us have littering our key rings. Now that data set can be correlated against our movements through the store. So retailers are now able to more accurately determine products we would likely buy if given the proper motivation.
As shoppers move around stores, they pick up impulse items that retailers entice them to buy. How? Through alerts about special offers, designed in part on their purchase histories.
Retailer can then track if the offers have been used or not — and use that data to further refine their analysis and perfect future offers for customers.
Track and Analyze
Many retail giants and some small boutiques already have their own mobile apps, which allow customers to track deals and access special offers.
These apps serve as the ideal gateway for customers to interact with the iBeacons in brick-and-motor stores. Push notifications could be sent directly to apps and additional features, like price comparison, could be integrated right into it, triggered by proximity alerts sent from the iBeacon.
There is no doubt shopping will evolve from the mundane ritual it is today to a more interactive and tailored experience. As brick-and-mortar retail continues to struggle to define and redefine its role, iBeacons are poised to grow more important. It's technology that can help retailers gain a marketing edge and instantly put special offers in the hands of customers.
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