Could business iBeacons transform your service?

By: John McGarvey

Date: 24 November 2014

iBeacons could be about to make your customers' smart phones smarter. And that could give you new ways to reach people when they're near your business.

Read on to learn about iBeacons: tiny gadgets that could spark a new mobile revolution.

What is an iBeacon?

An iBeacon is a low-powered transmitter that can let nearby devices like smart phones know it's there.

An iBeacon can then ask these devices to do certain things, like pop up a message on the screen.

Here's a potential scenario to help you understand how iBeacons work:

  1. You walk into a local deli carrying your smart phone. As you're a regular customer, you have the shop's app on your phone.
  2. As you pass the unmanned cheese counter, the app recognises you're near an iBeacon.
  3. This triggers the app to show a message offering 10% off cheese, and asking if you'd like to summon a member of staff to serve you.

The idea behind iBeacons is simple, but they can be powerful when combined with mobile apps. They could be particularly useful to retailers, restaurants and cafes.

How iBeacons work

iBeacons use Bluetooth to communicate with nearby mobile devices. Apple created them and has included the technology in its devices since 2013.

Because iBeacons use Bluetooth, they're inexpensive to buy.

A quick search on Amazon reveals many available for under £20. You can also buy more sophisticated iBeacons for around $33 each.

What are iBeacons for?

iBeacons allow businesses to show consumers targeted messages, information and offers based on location.

They can pinpoint where someone is on your premises. The level of accuracy means you can even provide information targeted by which aisle or shelf they're browsing.

For instance, iBeacons could enable you to:

  • Identify regular customers passing your shop, then entice them in by offering a discount voucher.
  • Offer information as a customer browses in-store. For instance, suggest recipes when they're in the baking aisle.
  • Prepare pre-ordered items for collection when the customer walks through the door.

There are applications outside retail, too. iBeacons could help at events, in theatres and cinemas - as well as almost any other physical location.

Who uses iBeacons?

Well, it's still early days. At the moment, few companies are using iBeacons in anger:

Other interested companies include John Lewis, Easyjet and a shopping centre in Eastleigh.

The iBeacon privacy issue

Like most location-based technologies, there are some concerns over iBeacon privacy. Retailers could use them to track shoppers' movements in detail.

They could easily be used to answer questions like:

  • How long did you spend looking at products you didn't buy?
  • What sort of path did you follow through the shop?
  • How often do you stop by without buying anything at all?

iBeacon advocates argue that consumers can always choose whether to grant a business access via a mobile app. And that's certainly true, although whether consumers understand these access requests is another matter.

Getting started with iBeacons

Although iBeacons are still in their infancy, there's nothing to stop you trying them out in your business. But as consumer awareness is low, at present iBeacons are most appropriate for companies with their own established apps.

In any case, iBeacons are yet to show their full potential. If you adopt them earlier, maybe they offer a chance to steal a march on your local competitors.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.