The tech uses the newest low-energy flavor of Bluetooth, and users need an official iOS Apple Store app for things to start happening between transmitters and iPhones.
The two key drivers are:
- Apple can push targeted, tightly geo-fenced messages right in the store – about everything from in-store offers to order status;
- the tech can create what would amount to heat maps of how shoppers move around a store and what messages get the most activity, providing what could be invaluable insights at potentially lower costs than other methods and technologies, like video analytics systems.
It’s also a working lab in 250 stores for other retailers to look at, which may be the biggest driver behind these things.
This is not new, just like Apple didn’t have the first tablet or even the first smartphone. If you have been around this sector a while you’ve had meetings with people peddling Bluetooth-based proximity marketing. Companies like ShopKick have been doing geo-fenced mobile integration stuff for more than three years (and recently announced their own iBeacons offer at Macy’s).
The differences here are that the technology is now better, and more than anything, it’s Apple. Which gets attention, because they usually take a tech offer and do it better (though Apple’s map effort is one example where that definitely didn’t happen).
The difference is also that this is a more trusted circumstance than the kind of Bluetooth marketing we’ve seen in the past, which could be reasonably compared to email spam. Turn your Bluetooth on and messages from whoever or whatever could hit you, and a user would have to decide whether or not it was worth it or safe to respond to the prompt.
If this catches on (and it is definitely an if), this means a few things for in-store digital signage efforts:
- Programming strategies may have to be adjusted because some of the messages that needed to be on screens will instead be pushed to and read on phones as people move around, and those messages will be more contextually relevant to each user. So the well-worn right time, right place, right message thing gets less compelling;
- Retailers have a new shiny object they’ll want to know about, and as with tablets, they’ll wonder if this tech negates the need for expensive display screens and software when messages can get pushed right to people’s palms;
- The endless, largely unwarranted fuss about face pattern detection and audience counting will likely diminish because this stuff looks way more intrusive, and most people will probably opt-in happily, without thinking twice about privacy implications.
Again, whether or not this really is the next thing in retail is a big question. The next big thing comes along every month or so,and few of them really do revolutionize retail.
Will people be happy with their phones jack-hammering offers at them as they move around retail environments? I wouldn’t be, but I’m not the target generation. If I leave the house and forget my phone, I don’t really care. A typical 23-year-old would freak out.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.