man walking in a retail area
Beacons offer hyper-granular marketing messages to customers in retail outlets, restaurants and other locations. PHOTO: chuttersnap

Refining personalized customer journeys is a priority for web content management (WCM) and digital experience (DX) platforms in 2017 — and although artificial intelligence is the technology best positioned to help — beacons will also play a pivotal role in feeding those learning machines with uncharted data from the physical world.

Beacons are set to become part of the furniture for brands that want to beef up the contextual data supporting their online personalization efforts. Moreover, beacons will open the door for brands that wish to start their journey towards offline personalization, too.

The Evolution of Beacons

When I was a schoolboy, no early-morning drive to school was complete without my father receiving an automated SMS message as we drove past our local car dealership.

The dealership had invested in Bluetooth-powered proximity marketing, a primitive form of the modern beacon. Needless to say, the messages were repetitive and generic.

Today, beacons like the ones provided by Kontakt.io offer hyper-granular marketing messages to customers standing in specific spots in retail outlets, restaurants, sports arenas, museums, and pretty much anywhere else.

Kontakt’s technology also integrates with apps like IFTTT, and can interact with light and motion sensors, NFC and RFID.

On the ground, Amazon is leveraging similar (albeit enhanced) technology in order to bring us Amazon Go, a chain of physical stores where Amazon customers can simply walk in, pick up their desired items, and then walk out.

Google also has a beacon API that can be used with their very own Eddystone or Apple’s iBeacon.

The High Street Isn’t Dead

You might think that beacons are thriving in a dying market, but contrary to popular belief, high street retail is alive and well.

Despite the relentless growth of ecommerce, 94 percent of total retail sales are still generated in bricks-and-mortar stores.

This surprising reality, paired with the industry-wide desire to enhance personalization, is leading many high street retailers and pop-up shop practitioners to investigate the power of beacons. In fact, BI Intelligence predicts that more than 4.5 million beacons will be active by the end of 2018, with 3.5 million of them being used by retailers.

The strength of this trend has resulted in the emergence of content management systems that focus on beacon technology before anything else, like Coaster CMS and Onyx Beacon.

Thus, the case for investing time and money into offline personalization remains a solid one.

Offline vs. Online Personalized: Bridging The Gap

Today, a gaping chasm separates the online and offline customer journey.

Most brands are prepared to engage their customers on a personalized level via their websites and apps — but the conversation runs dry when those same customers decide to make an in-store visit.

Beacons are the key to continuing those personalized conversations offline like never before. By integrating beacons with DX platforms — not to mention emerging AI technologies — organizations are able to log visit times, offer discounts on items the customer viewed online, and even direct them to specific areas of the store if they appear to be wandering.

And yet, the true potential of offline personalization is still largely untapped.

While it’s true that brands such as Macy’s and Target are already using beacons to track customers and offer coupons, as beacon technology advances, I can’t help but think of the bigger contributions beacons can make towards bolstering personalization across the board.

The Potential of Beacons

Although beacon technology is still settling into its role within the personalization process, it’s potential is clear. Brands can leverage beacons to kick off retargeting ad campaigns, prompt social media interactions, study physical journeys, and further segment customers within their DX platforms based on their offline activities.

Beacons could also be used as in-store customer onboarding tools. For instance, they have the ability to invite unregistered visitors to sign up in exchange for incentives, thus placing them into marketing funnels.

Made.com’s Commercial Director Annabel Kilner recently touted the potential of beacons, saying:

"I believe in the future of beacons. That will be what showrooming is all about. I would love it if someone came into [a Made.com showroom] and when they're looking at a piece of furniture, we can pop up and tell them about the designer. It would be so powerful."

Kilner is right: Beacons will soon contribute to the personalization process on a grander scale by extracting data from undiscovered dimensions of the offline customer journey.

The future role of the beacon will not only empower digital personalization tools, but it will also assist them in enhancing the personalization of offline customer journeys. Ultimately, it’s going to change the high street retail experience for the better, and I for one can’t wait.