7 Surprising Ways iBeacons Will Change Forever the Way We Shop

There is a profound psychological need that is greatly impacting our shopping behavior and brands loyalty. It’s called the desire is to be understood.

In our personal life we cherish friends that can relate to what we’re going through. We bond with people based on how well they understand us. And at some point, we all secretly hope our partner was a better mind-reader.

Understanding is what we unknowingly seek from retailers as well. We go into a store and we expect the sales associate to be there when we need them and leave us alone when we just want to “look around”. We expect to receive relevant suggestions and personalized advice, and not feel like we are being “sold to”. And we, surely, expect retailers to understand and deal with our common in-store frustrations, like long lines at the cash register, irrelevant offers and difficulty in locating the product that we’re looking for.

To create a strong bond with their shoppers and compete with e-commerce giants, brick-and-mortar retailers should not just focus on customer service, competitive pricing or in-store traffic. They should start thinking about how to create an immersive and highly personal shopping experience.

A beacons technology by Estimote may become the next ‘big thing’ that will help bridge the gap between online efficiency and ‘instant gratification’ of in-store shopping.

The disruptive power behind the tiny BLE device

For those, who haven’t heard of iBeacons – it’s essentially a low-powered, wireless “GPS for indoors” that can notify nearby iOS 7 and Android devices of its presence.
When a shopper’s smartphone comes into range, the iBeacon’s signal triggers location-based notifications and targeted alerts.

Released less than two years ago, iBeacons technology has already been tested by grocery stores, stadiums, museums, parking garages and big retail chains as well as Apple’s 254 US stores.

Here are just some of the features that make iBeacons stand apart from traditional QR codes or NFC-enabled devices:

  • Universality. iBeacons can transmit data in the absence of a GPS, Wi-Fi, or a 3G connection (which means that they can be used pretty much everywhere)
  • Efficiency. Rightly dubbed as “Bluetooth Low Energy” device, iBeacons can run for up to two years on a single coin battery, reducing maintenance costs for the retail operation team.
  • Affordability. Costing as little as $20 to $40, and requiring no special installation training, they are easily accessible to both mom-and-pops shops and large retail chains.
  • Great precision. It’s not a coincidence that iBeacons are compared with GPSs. By using triangulation, this new technology accurately locates customers in-store or in large public spaces, and quickly determines their interest in a product based on proximity.
  • Convenience for users. Anyone who has ever used Google Maps, knows that one of the biggest drawbacks of enabling the GPS on a smartphone, is how quickly it drains the battery charge. iBeacons don’t have this problem, they provide apps with a better way to continuously orient themselves without eating into the battery power.

All these features are definitely cool enough to make iBeacons the ‘technology of the year’, but it’s not about technology. It’s about experience. Experience,that makes shoppers feel understood.

7 Ways iBeacons will change forever the way we shop:

1. Provide Relevant Suggestions.

The obvious way of using iBeacons is to offer shoppers incentives, deals, personalized information and recommendations to boost sales and enhance the shopping experience.

How will it work in practice? Let’s imagine you walk into an apparel store and to buy a pair of new jeans. As you take your phone out of your pocket, the beacons will automatically broadcast suggestions and sales based on your preferences, jeans’ size and past purchases.

Now let’s say you picked a pair that you like, added it to your virtual shopping cart and keep browsing. As you walk by the accessory aisle, you may receive a notification, saying “This belt looks great with the jeans that you’ve chosen.” Coming from a cellphone, rather than an overly-eager sales person, these suggestions seem more scientific and there is a higher chance that you’ll listen to them.

2. Create Seamless Online-Offline Experience.

iBeacons’ potential goes much further than sending real-time, relevant notifications and coupons. For example, it allows the staff to quickly identify specific customers and link them to their digital activity, eliminating the line of ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ and ‘Have you been shopping with us before?’ questions.

3. Get ’Surprise and Delight’ Factor.

According to a study conducted by Accenture, 19% of U.S. consumers use click-and-collect services and this number will most likely grow in the next 2-3 years. The possibility of paying online and picking up the product in store is a great way to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping. Yet this process can still be improved and simplified.

Why make click-and-collect shoppers go to the service counter and wait in line to pick up their product? Why not use iBeacon technology to detect them as they pull into the parking lot and have their items ready before they even enter the store? I don’t know about you, but if Best Buy or Target introduced a service like that I would be both ‘surprised and delighted’.

4. Gain Deeper Customer Understanding.

Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Yet for decades brick-and-mortar stores were unable to measure some of the crucial data, easily available to online and e-commerce sites.

Beacons technology can substitute some of the expensive analytics technology previously used only by big retail chains. iBeacons placed throughout the store can tell you how many customers are coming in, track shoppers movements, and know how much time the person is spending in front of a certain aisle or a product, triggering relevant real-time offers and suggestions.

Another great yet under-explored feature are the sensors built into each beacon, including accelerometer and temperature sensor. Why should retailers care?
Because things like weather conditions, indoor and outdoor temperature can have a direct impact on consumer behavior, product trends and sales.

Retailers can not only gain actionable insights by measuring fluctuations in the environment, they can also improve shopping experience for their customers.

For example, as an IKEA member I am entitled to receive a free coffee or a hot tea at their cafeteria. It’s wonderful and I’m grateful, but I never make use of it. Why? Mostly because I go to IKEA in summertime (and I live in Miami, not in Sweden). So a bottle of ice-cold water would make me much happier than a cup of steaming-hot black tea. This is the simple example, but I wonder how much it can impact membership subscription rates, overall time people spend at IKEA and sales.

5. Bring Fun Into Grocery Shopping.

Imagine watching a video tape from your local supermarket. Seeing people walk down the aisles, slowly pushing a cart in front of them, picking up products and putting them into the cart. I bet in 2-3 minutes you would be bored out of your mind.
The truth is – there is nothing exciting, surprising or delightful about the grocery shopping experience. It’s plain boring.
iBeacons technology can remedy that in several ways.

For those, who prefer efficiency and savings, iBeacons in-store navigations, powered by an app, can be transformed into a personalized map. It will guide you directly to the products on your shopping list and show relevant deals as you walk through the store.

For those, who wouldn’t mind adding a touch of fun to what is widely considered a “chore”, iBeacons opens new opportunities for “gamifying” the shopping experience. Think treasure hunts and a real-time ‘lottery’ initiatives, where discounts and surprises are offered by brands to every 100th shopper.

6. Turn “Showrooming” into Money-Making Opportunity.

The showrooming phenomenon (looking at products in-store and then buying them online) has hurt many brick-and-mortar stores. The good news – it can be transformed into a business opportunity for both e-commerce giants and offline stores that have well-established relationships with their clients.

For example, there is a really cool bike store, called Fritz’s Skate Bike & Surf close to my house. People that work there are passionate about biking, surfing and skateboarding, and within 5 minutes of entering the store, they will turn you into a sports fan as well.

You probably have a store like that too, where you go to once in a while, not because you need something, but because you just like the atmosphere.

Now let’s say, one day I decide to buy a new bike. It’s given that I will go to Fritz’s to check the bikes they have, ask for professional advice, and try the ones that I like.

Once in the store the app understands which bike I like, based on the time I spend in front of it. Then my phone pings offering a 5% discount if I order it from Amazon right now. If I take up the offer the sports store gets a percentage from the transaction. So instead of focusing on the messy parts – the logistics, storage, shipping – bike store owners and staff can focus on customer experience, making money from showrooming.

7. Appeal to different shopping styles.

Aaron Shields, Fitch’s strategy director believes that not “all people shop equally”. Some shoppers love to look around, searching for inspiration, while others prefer to get their research done online, decide on the product that they want and then go in-store to pick it up. Shields calls this group of shoppers “Locators”. What they look for in the shopping experience is not face-to-face interaction, but efficiency.

Apple’s Grand Central store is a great example of how Apple is harnessing iBeacon technology to target this group of shoppers. The entire shopping experience is designed to allow locators to walk into the Apple store, pick up a product they want, choose accessories, make a purchase and walk out. No stopping at a checkout counter. No talking to a sales person. No waiting in line. It doesn’t get more efficient than that.

Words of Warning:

Just remember, there is a fine line between being relevant and being creepy. iBeacons offer a great personalization and bonding tool, but they shouldn’t be overused to the point that they make people feel uncomfortable and defensive about their privacy. Retailers will do well not to cross this line.