Beacons are a technology based on Bluetooth that broadcast a unique identifier. This signal can be picked up by compatible devices (those featuring Bluetooth 4.0+) in proximity of the Beacon to provide the user with context-aware, hyper-local information leading to a “concierge-like” experience. Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier (UUID, Major, Minor) that can be picked up by a compatible app or operating system. This can be used to track customers or trigger a location-based action such as an offer, promotion, product data sheet, how-to videos, in-app notification, a check-in or a push notification.
How do Beacons compare to other technologies?
The three most common technologies are Beacons (aka Bluetooth Smart), NFC (Near Field Communication) which requires a compatible phone (Android) to read the chip within 10 centimeters and RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) that uses a chip the size of a grain of sand to track items at a distance.
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- ALL devices with Bluetooth 4.0+
- Few inches up to 70 meters
- 1-to-1 and 1-to-X
- Events, travel, banking, retail, museums, healthcare, restaurants
- NFC (a form of RFID)
- Android devices only (2015)
- Within 10cm (4″)
- Payments, transportation passes, event ticketing, “smart” direct mail
- Radio Frequency
- Needs special readers
- Few cm up to 100 meters
- Pets, payment, tolls, asset tracking and access control
Why Bluetooth Beacons?
Beacons work on Bluetooth protocol offering the most flexibility and access across devices, an adjustable range, long battery life and push notification capability. Beacons take personalization and loyalty to the next level by leveraging a few pieces of data to provide “concierge-like” service. Other characteristics that make BLE the technology of choice for many developers:
- Provide an intelligent wireless connection to authenticate/manage interactions
- Send push (opt-in) notifications to users when they enter the boundary near your business
- Minimize network traffic since it works on Bluetooth
- Avoids draining the battery by using an extremely power-efficient connection
- A low-cost technology that is easy to deploy
- Bluetooth Smart receives ubiquitous support from device manufacturers and mobile operating systems
- It works with the devices consumers already have, making it a reliable and cost-effective solution for many brands
Talk to a Bluetooth Beacons Development Expert
Applications Using Bluetooth Beacons
Target recent launched a 50 store pilot. The objective was to make it easier to get your shopping done. It promises not to bombard you with messages and is working on some soon to be released features such as the ability to dynamically re-order your shopping list as you move through the store, and to summon for a Target Staff member to help you.
McDonald’s tested beacons in 26 stores providing passive access to in-store customers as well as potential customers walking by, promotional coupons and other deals which in turn could influence the purchase decision. It received a significant increase in sales of promotional items it pushed.
Urban Outfitters wanted to extend in-store experiences using mobile with a focus on entrance, fitting rooms and checkout and add a cool factor to the brand. Instead of pushing aggressive offers at smartphone-wielding consumers, the beacons plug into the Urban On loyalty program app. E.g. Shoppers are prompted to take selfies with new outfits and post them to Instagram for a chance to be featured on Urban Outfitters’ website.
Starwood Hotels tested Beacons in 30 hotels/resorts to accelerate the check-in process for frequent guests, alert housekeeping when rooms were empty and help the staff address visitors by name. At 2 locations they skipped the check-in process altogether allowing their guest to go right to their designated room via keyless entry.
Virgin Atlantic ran a pilot at London’s Heathrow with its Upper Class providing push notifications to make the steps through security more efficient, promote exclusive offers at the airport and currency exchange notifications. Following the pilot they are evolving their efforts to achieve both surprise and delight in the customer experience.
TravelTag offers travelers an option to use a Beacon to track their bag as they arrive on the carousel. With a Beacon placed in each checked bag, you no longer have to wait anxiously in anticipation while jet lagged, frustrated, agitated, tired or hungry. The App notifies you when each bag arrives so those 18 minutes (on average) can be spent more productively transforming the last mile experience. Imagine taking back 16+ billion minutes of unproductive time!
There are many pilots underway providing the ability to create a truly unique engaging experience for every visitor by providing detailed information at each exhibit. A visitor chooses to interact with the content/exhibit of interest which in turn could be used to push offers to other upcoming exhibits in the future. And if you are a tourist in the city, a message may be pushed asking if the app should be deleted as you leave the museum. Henry Ford, Harvard University Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Guggenheim Museum, etc. are testing Beacons.