Using Beacons in Retail

We get many queries from retailers asking how to use beacons. As we have previously written, Beacons aren’t much good for unsolicated marketing (nor are Eddystone beacons) and instead you need to think about offering useful information on top of which you can then provide offers.

There’s a Twitter post by Joaquim Bretcha today that shows how Tesco Lotus use iBeacons in Thailand:

You can see that their app does a lot more than push offers. It gently prompts the user at the appropriate times through notifications, in-app messages and sms messages. The aim is to have “Constant exposure to Tesco media”, not push offers.

Singapore Heritage Trail

There’s a new heritage trail of Little India in Singapore that uses Physical Web beacons to guide visitors through unique facts and stories, historical photographs, and crowd-sourced content.

The article on their web site is a great example how you can a) provide clear instructions on how to use the Physical Web and b) provide an incentive to start using. In the case of the trail there’s a contest. If you use your mobile device to access the Little India Physical Web Experience you can redeem a gift.

Samsung Browser Brings the Physical Web

There’s an interesting article by Peter O’Shaughnessy, Developer Advocate for Samsung on Bringing the real world to your browser with CloseBy. It describes how Samsung’s web browser detects Physical Web beacons. It works in a similar way to Google’s Chrome/Android in that it uses a proxy server to get and cache information (the title) of destination web addresses.

While it’s good to see the Physical Web expanding, we can’t help but question what this means for multiple notifications. Will Google and Samsung be both providing notifications for the same Physical Web beacon?

Chrome, Eddystone and the Omnibox

There are some posts on Twitter and articles talking about how Eddystone appearing in iOS Chrome’s Omnibox might transform proximity notification scenarios. So what is this and what does it look like?

This came about due to the Physical Web/Chrome teams experimenting with new ways to show Eddystone notifications:

At the moment, notifications appear at the end of the ‘Today’ view. They get a bit lost because you have to swipe down get the notifications, swipe left and then scroll to the bottom:

BeaconZone Eddystone notification at the bottom

Noone is going to see this unless they know it’s there and are trying very very hard. Even though Eddystone detection is designed to be ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’, it’s a bit too difficult to find local Physical Web beacons.

With Google’s experimental Omnibox implementation, beacons come up when you go to do a Chrome search. At the moment, to try it out you have to enable an experimental flag by visiting chrome://flags:

After you do this, local physical web beacons appear when you start a search:

It’s far more likely people will see this rather than the Chrome widget at the bottom of the notifications Today panel.

It’s unknown whether this will find it’s way into future versions of Chrome without having to set the flag or whether it might appear on Android. Android has more visible Eddystone detection as it’s built in Android itself (Play Services to be more specific) and appears near the top of the notifications panel.

UPDATE: As of October 2017, Google removed Eddystone detection from Chrome on iOS and Android. Only Android can provide notifications.

Google’s Proximity Beacon API

Most beacon platforms are fairly limited in that they are designed around retail marketing scenarios. If you are creating a non-retail marketing solution you might want to look into Google’s little publicised Proximity Beacon API. It allows you to register beacons and have arbitrary data, called attachments, associated with them. What’s more, it supports the registration of iBeacon as well as Eddystone beacons and you can use it free of charge.

The usual usecase is setup via Google’s console followed by update from apps detecting beacons. Android and iOS example are available.

It’s not always apps that are used to detect beacons. For example, you might have a single board computer such as the Raspberry Pi or Bluetooth-WiFi gateway detecting beacons and a web front end managing and monitoring the beacons. Google also provides example scripts that show how other entities can be used to register, list and filter beacons. Alternatively, other entities might even call these scripts.

The storing of arbitrary data allows the proximity Beacon API to be used for scenarios beyond retail marketing such as sensing with sensor beacons and real time locating (RTLS).

Paper on Using Eddystone Ephemeral-ID (EID)

There’s a recent paper by Debasis Bhattacharya Mario Canul and Saxon Knight of the University of Hawaii on the Impact of the Physical Web and BLE Beacons (pdf). The paper is based on a project that uses Eddystone Ephemeral-ID (EID). The paper is more a backgrounder and description rather than providing new insights. Nevertheless, it provides a useful description of some security issues with beacons that include tracking of beacon locations, forgery and showrooming.

Beacons For Bees

There’s an interesting new project on GitHub that uses Eddystone-URL beacons to tag wild and domestic beehives.

“There are many reasons to geo-tag wild and domestic Beehives, one is simply to raise awareness of HoneyBee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and the state of health of local Beehives; another would be to alert those that might be susceptible to anaphylactic shock that they should be mindful of their surroundings. (i.e. Don’t climb that lovely tree with the huge wild Beehive in it…)”

It’s questionable whether Eddystone-URL is the best solution in this particular scenario. Eddystone-URL will only show up when users are interacting with their devices (when the screen is on). People avoiding beehives due to possible anaphylactic shock would want to be alerted even when not using their phones. This requires use of an app and iBeacon if background notification is required on iOS.

Nevertheless, Eddystone-URL does provide an inexpensive, easy to create solution for educational and awareness (PR) purposes.