Apple’s iPhone 7, unveiled in September 2016, included a big surprise: no headphone jack. Rather, iPhone 7 users can wear innovative wireless headphones—called AirPods, which were created by Apple—that connect to the phone via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. One group that ought to write thank-you notes to Apple for the switch is retailers interested in marketing to their customers using beacons.
The reason? AirPods offer a powerful reason for iPhone users to keep their Bluetooth turned on at all times. (While enabling Bluetooth drains some of a phone’s battery life, it doesn’t drain nearly as much as some people think.) Beacon marketing, also known as proximity marketing, relies on BLE technology to deliver location-specific messages to the smartphones of shoppers and visitors at specific retail locations. Beacon technology offers a new way for marketers to reach out to prospects and to increase foot traffic by attracting those nearby.
The beacon revolution comes at a time when brick-and-mortar retailing—rather than fading in the smartphone era as some have warned—is still a force to be reckoned with. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. consumers venture into brick-and-mortar locations to supplement product research undertaken on smartphones, according to XAd’s 2016 Mobile Path to Purchase report. According to an article on LuxuryDaily.com, the findings bolster the notion that in-store visits still play a vital role in driving sales. Specifically, noted LuxuryDaily.com, customers like being able to see and experience a product in real life before hunting for lower prices and reviews online. Furthermore, XAd’s report found that compared to 2013, U.S. retail shoppers are 75 percent more likely to use their mobile devices in a store.
All of which is good news for retailers, who have various strategies at their disposal to make the most of Bluetooth-enabled beacons. For example, by merging beacons and geolocation strategies, retailers can deliver exclusive offers, promotions and even flash sales in specific departments to shoppers’ smartphones as they move through the store.
Customized ads, coupons and notifications can be transmitted from a store beacon to the closest mobile devices. Retailers can collect valuable, location-specific data on consumers, including how long they are spending in the store, which aisles they are visiting, what products they are purchasing and general feedback on their shopping experience.
This phenomenon also hits close to home for those on the front lines who are developing new beacon technology platforms. For example, Digital Social Retail, a division of the Holosfind Group, has created and markets its proprietary cloud-based Social Retail® software platform, a user-friendly interface that enables chain retailers to manage in real time the proximity marketing campaigns of all of their stores/locations from a single laptop. Using cutting-edge technologies, its analytics tool tracks consumer and user data generated by the activities of the platform, so the retailer/brand can evaluate and optimize their digital marketing and proximity communication campaigns to verticals including retail.
Nor are such advances limited to individual stores. In fact, entire shopping districts in cities can be wired with beacon technology. For example, in May 2016, beacons were successfully deployed throughout St. Étienne, France, with the aim of transforming it into a “smart city” for shoppers; the goal was to make individuals in the city aware of events, alerts and other noteworthy items on a regular basis and in real time, no matter where in town they happen to be.
The retail experience still involves visits to brick-and-mortar locations. Thanks in part to the advent of AirPods and continuous Bluetooth utilization, smart marketers can utilize beacons to maximize the chances of a sale and keep happy, loyal customers.
Sylvain Bellaïche is the founder and CEO of Digital Social Retail, a company that has developed a beacon management platform that is revolutionizing the relationship between customers and brands.