SWOT Analysis of Using Beacons in Retail

There’s a recent paper by Ruchita Pangriya, of L. S. M. Government P. G. College, India on Beacon Technology the Future of Retail: A Review of the Literature and SWOT Analysis (pdf). The paper addresses the, so far, limited use of beacons in retail. The paper says:

“Despite the enormous scope in this field… many people are unaware of this technology”

The paper describes a systematic review of current literature and does a SWOT analysis on beacons. It covers the results of 80 academic papers and two-phase interviews. The first phase of interviews was with six experts in the area of digital technology and retail.

The second phase questionnaire was sent to 46 customers who had experienced this technology.

Challenges include:

  • The readiness of various stakeholders to adopt the technology on a large scale
  • Balancing customer personalisation, privacy and also respecting regulations on direct marketing
  • Ensuring customers have an app and Bluetooth on

Opportunites include:

  • The potential to revive the bricks and mortar retail model
  • The ability to integrate offline operations into the online world
  • The possibility to better serve customers with superior personalised experiences, customised notifications and loyalty benefits
  • Improving efforts to match advertising endeavours with customer conversions

It was found that in order to use beacons in retail, retailers need to educate customers and tell them about the benefit of using Beacon driven apps.

The paper spreads the misconception that:

“Bluetooth-connected devices are not battery friendly, and very few customers keep their Bluetooth activated all the time”

This used to be so, but is no longer the case with modern smartphones using the latest iOS and Android APIs.

Can You Provide iBeacons That Pop Up Smartphone Notifications?

You might have read that beacons can be used to pop up notifications. Such a mechanism, called Google Nearby Notifications, existed prior to October 2018 after which it was discontinued.

Today, there are two ways to cause beacons to trigger notifications:

Retail Workforce Management Using iBeacons

SameSystem is a retail workforce management system. It prevents unnecessary costs due to overstaffing while ensuring sufficient staff during busy times.

The problem with retail is that there are many different shifts and staff frequently come and go so recording who is in or out can be difficult. SameSystem minimises manual clocking in and out by using iBeacons. Everything is automatic with the SameSystem knowing when staff arrive, leave or go on breaks. This allows stores to validate work hours and fine tune retail operations.

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Kiosk Pro for iOS Uses iBeacons

Kiosk Pro is an app for iOS that turns an iPad into a public kiosk.

The technical documentation shows how you can trigger the showing of specific information when in the vicinity of a particular beacon. For example, if the kiosk is static, people with different beacons might trigger the showing of different information. If the kiosk is moving, for example a tablet being held, it might trigger the showing of different information based on the location of, for example, different exhibits. The kiosk can also be set to advertise iBeacon that can be picked up in iOS and Android apps.

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Using Beacons in Car Dealerships and Showrooms

Customers are increasingly expecting very high levels of customer service at car dealerships. This is very difficult to achieve due to the high levels of manpower needed, especially at the start and end of the day, as service staff search for customers’ cars.

On the sales side, some customers end up waiting to be seen (or leave) while others, usually millennials, expect better self-help information to better inform their choice.

There are untapped opportunities to make dealerships much more efficient and improve the customer experience through the use of technology.

Attaching beacons to cars and using apps and Bluetooth gateways solves some of the problems found in dealerships:

Finding cars – A significant amount of time can be wasted manually finding specific cars be they for sale or in for servicing. Sometimes a car might be at one of a few sites or even at a storage site. It might be in use and not be on a site. Cars sometimes block in other cars requiring extra keys to extract. Beacons attached to cars can locate them and adjacent cars in real time.

Providing Sales Information – Beacons attached to cars for sale can be used with apps to provide information and capture leads when the salesperson is busy or the dealership is closed. They provide a way for customers to continue the buying process when they have left the site and extend the showroom to their homes and workplaces. There are also opportunities to extend marketing to customers’ friends and family through social sharing.

Providing Servicing Information – Dealerships get very busy at the start and end of the day when customers drop off and pick up their vehicles. Apps and Bluetooth gateways and web sites can be used to provide automated information, based on location, as to the progress of servicing thus relieving staff of answering phone calls.

Once you have a beacon network in place collecting data you can perform more advanced analysis such as identifying cars for sale that haven’t moved for a long time, popular cars and unpopular cars. You can gather information on service time, throughput and productivity.

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iBeacons for Intuiface

Untuiface is one of a growing number of products incorporating beacons in their functionality. Untuiface allows you to build interactive multi-touch kiosk type screens without writing any code.

Intuiface Composer

It’s possible to use iBeacons to trigger actions. For a static kiosk, things or people coming close can trigger content. For a moving kiosk, such as a tablet, content can change depending on how close the tablet is to particular areas or things.

The settings provide for actions when beacon advertisements are detected, change or are lost thus providing for different types of interaction. Untuiface have an example to show contextual information as items are picked up from or replaced to their original position.

Read more about using iOS and Android Apps with Beacons

Retail Shopping Analysis Using Beacons

There’s a recent paper on Analyzing of Gender Behaviors from Paths Using Process Mining: A Shopping Mall Application (pdf).

The authors use a ‘process mining’ algorithm to look at infrequent and incomplete data from a beacon event log. They analysed 642 customer paths of which 165 were male and 477 female. These were beacons people voluntarily carried as part of the study, not Bluetooth from their smartphones.

Customer journeys

The aim was to determine popular store groups, duration of visits and customer behaviour. They learnt that male customers had a loop between clothing-catering and clothing-supermarket. Female customers had a clothing-catering loop. Customers who spent more time in catering spent less time in clothing and vice versa. Male customers visited fewer store groups and visited stores in an unplanned way. Catering and clothing were the most popular store groups depending on the time (of year)

The paper concludes that Bluetooth is a cost-effective tracking technology that provides unbiased and uninfluenced observations.

Resurgence of Beacons in Retail

The demise of Google Nearby prompted some commentators to declare the death of beacons. However, here at BeaconZone we are actually seeing a resurgence of the use of beacons in retail.

Gone are the unsolicited notifications and gone are the ‘get rich quick’ marketers. The scenarios that remain tend to use beacons as an adjunct to something else rather than being the main solution itself. For example, they are used to provide triggering in CloseComm‘s WiFi onboarding app used by Subway, McDonalds, BurgerKing and CircleK and NCR.

Beacons are being rolled out to many food retailers, particularly in the USA. They are also taking new physical forms as witnessed by Mr Beacon:

If you are looking for more innovative uses of beacons in retail, take a look at Alibaba’s Fashion AI concept store as mentioned in the latest Wired (UK):

RFID and Beacons are used to detect items picked up during shopping so that customers can collect what they have looked at, have accessories automatically selected and view what’s in stock. Once they are home, a virtual wardrobe allows customers to buy anything they saw in store.

Beacons can also be used to enable audit compliance. Eric West, Head of Strategy at IMS has a useful free pdf on takeaways from GroceryShop, the retail industry conference. The pdf also mentions the use of beacons in lighting to drive location-based messages and wayfinding. Also:

“Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of WholeFoods was a “tipping point” that ensured all grocery players were speeding up their digital plans.”

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