Attention Shoppers: Brace Yourselves For Beacons


Attention Shoppers: Brace Yourselves For Beacons

Originally published in Fast Company on June 12, 2015.


You won’t truly be happy until a company knows everything about you. Where you live, how much you make, whom you married, what you buy on your phone and what you buy at a store, favorite sports team, everything. Don’t like hearing this? Take a ball-peen hammer to your phone and smash it repeatedly.

Consumers in Context
Companies are striving to know you. The negative side of knowing: they want to know you in order to sell more product to you by developing very contextual messaging that resonates with you. On the positive side: companies need to know you to better serve you. If you repeatedly walk into any small business owner’s store, they’ll begin to recognize you, get to know your personality, and to understand what makes you happy. You’re satisfied with their service both because their product is quality and because you’ve connected with them personally. So how does this work for large scale companies? With the launch of Apple’s new iOS9, which included expanded features for Apple Pay and Google Wallet, big companies, have more incentive than ever to connect with their customers in a very direct way.

When I enter Bloomingdale’s, it’s protocol for a sales person to learn my name and ask how they can help me. But in the future, technology will help sales staff with this interaction by greasing the skids. Through beacons—Bluetooth enabled low-frequency radio signals—the same sales person will not only know my name, but also the last time I was there, what I purchased, which brands I like, that my wife is a customer, and that I was just looking at their new product line on my phone before I walked through the door. They’ll receive this as a scannable alert, and all of it will be triggered by the simple act of me walking into their store.

When Beacons Meet Wallets
Beacons are going to answer two important questions for any companies that successfully use them: “Who are you really?” and “What do you care about, both outside this store and right here, right now?” The beacons themselves are dumb little pieces of hardware that do nothing more than sense when you’re near them. However, in combination with their custom application on your phone, companies can opt to systematically use beacons torment you with “coupons” and alerts, or they can use your loyalty data to provide you a more streamlined, contextual, and personal customer experience.

Paypal was the first to team beacons and virtual transactions, but we haven’t seen much use of beacon techonology—yet. Apps are required to trip beacons as you walk through store. Most companies haven’t had enough of their apps in market to trip a worthwhile amount of beacons in their stores. Companies need customers with their app on the phone, location services turned on, and Bluetooth turned on. This means companies like Bloomingdales desperately need all customers and potential customers to download their app. That’s not as easy as it sounds without providing value in exchange for downloads.

However, Apple Pay and Wallet may push beacons into the forefront sooner than later by helping companies gain more downloads. The combination of Apple Pay and Wallet will streamline sales transactions for customers. Paying with my Apple watch has been highly pleasant and simple with a cherry on top. Would a customer be willing to add an app to their phone if they knew it could speed up their checkout experience via Wallet? I’m betting yes. ApplePay and Wallet will increase the amount of apps downloaded for companies like Bloomingdales, and once stores have app downloads, they have the opportunity to up their beacon game— and, more importantly, begin to truly understand you.

[Coupons: Sinisa Botas/BillionPhotos via Shutterstock]

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