Utilizing Beacons and AI to Enhance the Brick & Mortar Experience

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Dec 2017
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Author : Pete Peranzo
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Stores are always seeking ways to connect with customers — and cut through the noise. What if you could upsell a customer while he or she is on the premises, increasing the chance that he is interested, and might actually buy the item?

You can, with the help of beacons.

What is a Beacon?

Bluetooth beacons are transmitters. They are hardware devices that broadcast a signal, which can be read and interpreted by nearby smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and other devices. The devices come in a variety of styles, such as USB sticks, dongles, plastic rock-shaped objects, or even keychains. Beacons are usually powered by batteries, but some are USB or solar-powered.

Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is a little different than the Bluetooth you’re probably already using for some devices. Like Classic Bluetooth, BLE transmits data over short distances, but uses less energy — lasting up to three years on a coin-sized battery. BLE is cheaper than Classic Bluetooth. However, BLE can’t handle complex applications that require constant communication and data exchange. Instead, it’s ideal for simple tasks. Also, beacons aren’t usually connected to the Internet.

Bluetooth beacons are a one-way transmitter, which is also different from some other location technology. That means beacons send a signal, but the devices do not send information back to the beacon. For someone to receive the signal, they must install an app to interact with the beacons. The beacons themselves will not track users but will send a signal to the installed app. This is also helpful for store managers, who must obtain permission to send push notifications.

Both Google and Apple have Beacon platforms — Eddystone and iBeacon, respectively. Although Google’s is open-source and Apple’s is not, both work across the platforms. However, Google and Apple don’t actually make the beacons, which you can find from a variety of manufacturers for between $10 and $30 each.

Uses for Beacons

Beacons have many uses in businesses and offices. For example, managers at a manufacturing facility, could install beacons as a way for employees to clock in as they walk through the door, instead of punching in somewhere. Beacons are also appearing in arenas, conferences, museums, and even schools and hospitals.

Retail stores have been early adopters of beacons for a good reason: they enable stores to connect with customers, stay top of mind, and send messages. The Rite Aid drugstore chain announced it will install beacons in 4,500 U.S. locations. Facebook has its own beacons, free for businesses so they can trigger Facebook Place tips.

Retail locations are using beacons to:

● Track customers – Find out how long someone spends in your store and which areas of the store they visit.

● Trigger a location-based action. A beacon might encourage someone to check into that location on social media.

● Send messages or notifications at a specific point, such as near a particular area of the store, or send a notification about a sale taking place as someone passes nearby. For example, if your clothing store is having a sale on coats, a beacon could send a message only as someone walks near the coat racks. These messages are opened more often because they are relevant. Early studies on this have shown that beacons can increase sales.

● Mobile payments – Connect beacons to your point of sale system.

How AI Plays a Role

Beacons can help you gather data about your customers’ behavior, which a valuable asset for a company. Once you have a large data set, you can send more targeted messages. Without AI, your beacon might “see” Customer Joe walk into your store and send him a message that says, “You have three days left to use your loyalty points before they expire.” The program recognizes Joe and can pull his data. AI can help connect Joe to other events, such as his friend’s birthday coming up or the fact that he just got a new job and therefore may need new clothes.

One company is trying an application that gives users the power to click on a beacon ad and then get more information through a chatbot, which can then lead them through the purchase — as they are standing on the sidewalk or sitting in a coffee shop. Amazon is combining beacons and other sensors in its Amazon Go store with AI to learn what items customers pick up and for how long and whether they ultimately put the item in their carts.

These are just a few of the possibilities. Because beacons and AI are newer to many businesses, there is a lot of potential to think big. Talk to us about connecting beacons and data for your company.

 

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