Will iBeacons change retail?

This guest post is by Kelly Slessor, director at BanterMob and co-chair of AIMIA’s mobile industry group.


There’s a new technology in town and it’s coming to find you – at least that’s what retailers are hoping anyway. Many retailers are expressing interest in iBeacons, the latest technology touted as being the solve-all solution for the retail industry.

The devices, which are Apple’s own version of Bluetooth Low Energy devices that transmit via low power radio technology over short distances, are causing quite a stir to retailers wanting to physically and mentally get closer to their customers than ever, since they are effectively a GPS for the retailer to keep track of the customer when in or near their store.

Essentially they work by coming to life when the customer is in range – identifying them as a customer and targeting them with targeted experiences once close enough. One expert describes iBeacons as a digital game of hot and cold since the value comes when retailers are able to target that customer when they are with them.

For retailers therefore their potential should be huge – and it’s for this reason that iBeacons are being touted as the next big innovation in retailing technology. But it is also here where the problem lies. iBeacons, like NFC, Bluetooth and in general proximity marketing are essentially only dumb platforms. What is important in these instances is not what the technology can do but what retailers can do with it. And its here that retailers may well fall over.

The temptation for any sort of location marketing has been simply to push out offers and discounts rather than to have an intelligent, thought through, appropriate content strategy that drives sales rather than undermines them.

This is lazy marketing that will devalue the brand and makes investment in technology such as iBeacons a waste of resources. What is needed instead is engaging content that is personalised and relevant to the user to ensure that it is actually of value to them – coupled with the option for customers to easily opt out or set their preferences to restrict what they see in a simple and intuitive way should the customer decide that the retailer hasn’t done enough to understand their needs or that they simply don’t want to see all the content that is offered.

iBeacons used correctly offer a real opportunity to engage with users over time and the chance to build powerful insights and knowledge that can truly drive a business and its marketing. They allow a retailer to get closer to their customer and offer more relevant content than ever before more cheaply than they have previously managed through other technologies – be that finding a helpful shop assistant or providing a one-off offer instore only when that customer is actually standing in front of the product in question.

The technology, with the right imagination, and the right implementation can go far if the content strategy behind it is properly targeted. How the customer reacts will then be the question.


Kelly Slessor is director at BanterMob and co-chair of AIMIA’s mobile industry group.