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Will the iBeacon be a world changer for marketers?

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Will the iBeacon be a world changer for marketers?
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Apple’s iBeacon technology has gotten lots of attention recently. It’s been described by some as having the potential to “change the world forever”.

Apple’s iBeacon is a proprietary location based system founded on Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology. Apple isn’t the only company to develop location based systems based on this standard but, because they are Apple, they have created public perception of a first mover advantage.

The BLE standard has been introduced to the consumer market where most devices, remote speakers and music players for example, have an effective range of 30 feet. The standard itself does not have a range limitation, therefore devices running on the BLE standard will be specified to allow a range of about 200 feet – a sensible limit that allows a handful of beacons to cover most retail stores.

Beacons interact with smartphone carrying customers wherever they shop or visit. The full potential of Beacons can only realized in an “opt-in” environment, so like most location based technologies, there needs to be an accompanying value proposition compelling enough to the customer for them to allow incoming pings on their phones carrying offers and other messages.

Like a lot of technology, the iBeacon opens up opportunity, but it will be the successful crafting of those value propositions that determines how much iBeacons will matter to consumers in the long run.

The application of beacons could mean that best customers will be recognized as they wander along the mall. Coupons, discounts, and other specials can be served up via beacons and quicker checkout times can be facilitated through the technology. Beacons can also help retailers learn about footfall patterns and aid them in optimizing their merchandising plans.

Walgreens is testing iBeacons in a group of Duane Reade stores, hoping to learn more about omni-channel shoppers. According to this article, Walgreens has learned that the average omni-channel shopper spends 6X more than the average shopper who only buys in the physical store.

Amid the excitement over the promise of BLE enabled devices, it’s important to be aware of surveys such as this one from Retale that reported 71% of mobile app users don’t want to be tracked while in-store while 56% indicated they didn’t want to receive push notifications while shopping.

Retale itself offers a mobile app that aggregates weekly retail circulars and gives consumers an alternative to print circulars via the web. Retale makes this happen via downloadable apps “accessible on any device”. While the results of all vendor generated surveys have to be reviewed carefully for bias, these stats should not be ignored.

When you witness people who never turn their phones off, and are seriously challenged to get through dinner with loved ones without checking their phone multiple times, you might come to believe that human fascination with smartphones has no boundaries.

The non-stop connection between consumers and their phones may have limits, but today we don’t know where those limits might be. For now, marketers would be wise to test and learn with any new technology, just as Walgreens is doing in its Duane Reade stores.

There is a long list of very interesting and potentially powerful technologies (contactless cards come to mind) that did not take hold with consumers. iBeacon will probably find its place in the retail world, but where its real value will be realized remains to be seen.

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