The newest technology in retail is bringing back something very old: customer service.
Whether it’s helping customers find what they need in a big-box store or welcoming a returning customer by name, iBeacons have the potential to transform the way retailers interact with customers.
iBeacons are small, low-energy use devices that use Apple technology to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices like smartphones.
Any shopper who has downloaded a store’s beacon-enabled mobile app or mobile pass can detect a nearby beacon and trigger a push notification to their phone’s lock screen.
ABI Research predicts that the number of iBeacon shipments will reach 60 million by 2019.
“Retailers now understand the need to address the newly emerging smartphone shopper,” said Patrick Connolly, senior analyst at ABI. “Analytics is a fundamental first step, but longer term, a combination of targeted in-store offers, hyper-local search, and in-application advertising will drive $5 billion in revenue in 2019.”
Indeed, knowing a customer’s precise location opens up a world of possibilities in terms of way-finding, providing assistance, closing a sale, and enhancing the shopper experience.
For example, a beacon placed at the entryway can prompt the app to display a greeting that thanks the shopper for coming. In a large store, the message might include the offer of a digital store map.
If the customer recently added goods to their online shopping cart, the message could offer to show the location of those items – down to their position on the shelf.
Taken a step further, the app could allow shoppers to create a digital shopping list and be greeted with a map showing the most efficient route to gather those items.
Smaller stores can focus on the personal touch by having the door beacon trigger an alert to staff and management when VIP customers walk in.
This set-up is ideal for synchronising small chains whose customers shop in more than one location, getting new salespeople up to speed on customer preferences, and keeping sales personnel informed about the recent online purchases of in-store customers.
Once in the store, customers can benefit from beacons in a variety of ways. Instead of searching in vain for someone to answer product questions, they can use the store app to request help and quickly receive information about who is responding and how long it will take.
Beacons lead the store associate directly to the requester instead of wasting time searching for whoever pressed the help button on a pole.
When customers open the app within the store, they’ll receive information relevant to their location. For example, someone who has purchased dog food in the past might see a discount offer on their favourite brand if they’re near the pet section.
Similarly, if an item they’ve purchased in the past is out of stock, the beacon near the item can trigger a message asking if they’d like to be notified when it’s back in stock or purchase it now online for delivery to their home.
Beacons can also ease the traditional purchasing process by helping the app recognise when a shopper enters the checkout area, offering information about loyalty points, and providing payment options (e.g., mobile pass, store card).
Of course, beacons can trigger discount alerts, serving up a percent-off message when a customer walks by a certain item.
Using buyer history to determine notification content makes them more effective – offering 20% off an item a customer has purchased several times in the past tends to be seen as helpful rather than annoying.
Similarly, an alert can be triggered when a customer walks near an item for which they recently downloaded a digital coupon.
Although much as been made of the promotional aspect of beacons, the value for retailers lies more in the rich data they’ll receive from a micro-location system.
Basic information such as shoppers pulling up a map of the store as they enter could prompt in an investment in way-finding signage.
More sophisticated analytics can be used to determine the best place for seasonal items, the best place for high-end products, or the best place for clearance merchandise.
Because shoppers must download the store app or pass to receive beacon-generated messages, the system is inherently opt-in, giving retailers an important opportunity to build trust with their customers.
The true potential of beacons lies in their integration with as many other systems as possible. That includes online purchasing, in-store purchasing, discount programmes, and loyalty programmes.
The more retailers know about their customers, the more they can serve up appropriate content, generate relevant offers, and provide thoughtful ways to improve the customer experience.
Perhaps the most significant feature is the technology’s ability to benefit retailers and shoppers simultaneously.
Improved communication about item locations, discounts and out-of-stock items is a boon to both parties.
Shoppers receive personalised service in boutique settings and a more efficient experience at larger stores.
Given the poor customer service in many retail environments over the last few years, shoppers will likely welcome beacon-enabled stores, visiting them more frequently and perhaps spending more than originally intended.