So after all the talk, it looks like London is going to see the country’s first big rollout of iBeacon technology. By the end of the month the Regent Street app should be available and publicised through street signs.
This will be fascinating to watch because the stores involved will obviously be high-end destination stores which people will not routinely visit. Unlike the supermarkets currently evaluating the technology, shoppers are unlikely to visit Regent Street stores every week for a grocery shop. Instead, these are luxury shops, in the main, which are as much of a destination as they are stores that fulfill a pressing need. Nobody needs to regularly buy expensive toys or designer scarves, and so the role that iBeacons play will be very interesting.
In a way, I think iBeacons will be at their strongest when they are used exactly like the Regent Street case and effectively turn an outdoor shopping area into a mall-like homogeneous experience. Dare I say it — could iBeacons’ greatest achievement be to make old destination shopping areas more like a Westfield (but without the roof and convenient car park)?
Just think about it. Although people will think of Regent Street as a place to drool at luxury coats and watch fanboys queue up for the latest Apple gadget, it’s not really viewed as a location where the shops are connected in some way. Not like Westfield or Stratford, where you make logical connections between stores because they are literally under the same roof. Use the equivalent of a mobile iBeacon shopping club, however, and you just might encourage shoppers to think about the collection of shops on a street as a grouping.
Faced with such huge competition from gigantic shopping malls outside the centre of town and the west end, iBeacons could well be the technology that changes the way people view more traditional shopping streets and drive foot traffic that might otherwise have taken the fall-back option of assuming there must be a shop selling an item at their nearest mall.
So, hats off to The Crown Estate for turning talk about iBeacon technology into action and showing how it can reinvent the high street — and not just individual stores.
It makes you wonder, could iBeacon technology be what every struggling high street needs? Faced with similar problems to Regent Street of massive nearby centres with unlimited parking and a roof, could the high street seek salvation in a mobile shopping club that joins stores together so they are more of a homogeneous, mall-like destination — albeit without the roof and fewer parking spots?
The Regent Street project — and what it could do for the humble high street — will make fascinating viewing for markets, and it’s happening right in the centre of town.