When a customer enters your store, it’s not like when they shop on your website. You can’t see how long they linger over certain products, how close they are to purchasing an item by adding it to their cart, or if related products catch their attention.

Or can you?

What are Beacons?

The use of beacons in your store—small devices that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit signals to smartphones and tablets within a maximum range of 300 feet—can bridge the gap between what you learn about your online versus your in-person customers. These one-way transmitters detect nearby devices and send them messages, much like a lighthouse signals to boats their proximity to shore. Some of the more expensive beacons can collect a small amount of data based on the device location, allowing business owners to see where in the store a beacon’s message reaches a customer and for how long that customer is in proximity to that beacon.

On Point Messaging

Big name stores like Macy’s and Sephora use beacon transmitters to deploy messages about products near a customer’s location inside the store, entice shoppers with discounts, and inform visitors about upcoming storewide savings or events they wouldn’t otherwise learn about.

An example: Macy’s will deploy a message from a beacon located at the top of an escalator to inform shoppers the perfume counter, located on that floor, has a specific fragrance at a significant discount for a short time.

Not Just for Retailers

Beacons have a multitude of uses, and not just for store owners.

  • Museums use them to provide visitors information about individual exhibits, imparting interesting facts they might not otherwise get without a private tour guide.
  • Hospitals use them to track expensive equipment and improve patient care.
  • Concert halls and arenas use them to let music lovers and sports fans know about merchandise and concessions sales.
  • Trade shows and conferences can use them to help attendees get the most from their experience by deploying a message with a map showing different panels’ room locations and times.
  • Airports can use them at congestion points, such as the security station, to remind travelers of restrictions on what’s allowed in carry-on luggage, and even update individual flight statuses.

A perfect use of beacon technology for a real estate agent could be to place the beacons throughout a home during an open house to inform potential buyers of unique features or information about improvements. How nice would it be to walk through a house and be sent a message that the water heater was replaced within the last year, and what the average heating and cooling costs for the home are by month?

Advantages of Beacon Marketing

  • Relatively low cost at $5-$30 per beacon
  • Quick to install, with some beacon manufacturers promising deployment of the first message within 15 minutes of installation.
  • Can oversee the software, implementation, and data yourself.
  • Reward customers well before they purchase. Send a welcome message at the entrance of your store, and offer them incentives they wouldn’t otherwise get.
  • An increase in the open/install rate of in-store apps. These messages can bring more customers to your app, which is a gateway to learning more about their shopping habits.
  • Use beacons in conjunction with real-life shopping experiences. If a customer is near the coffee counter in a bookstore, a quick beacon-sent message about the price of a latte or a limited-time seasonal flavor added to the smell of freshly ground coffee could be a combination the shopper can’t refuse.

Disadvantages of Beacon Marketing

  • Specialized locations, such as museums and real estate listed properties, need easily disguised beacons. It’s easier to hide the devices in a home during an open house, but for a museum, this could be trickier. They would need beacons the same color as the walls to be unobtrusive, which could add to the price of each unit.
  • Low-tech means more difficulty tracking when one goes faulty.
  • Competing beacons. Part of their appeal is the signal not being blocked by physical boundaries, which means the beacons of neighboring stores could be in competition with each other along shared walls.
  • Bigger location means more beacons. Adequate coverage may mean hundreds of beacons, which can get pricey.
  • The costs of beacons may be small, but managing the beacon data could become anything but. Outside firms offer to deploy and maintain a beacon collection, but that’s an added expense in the budget, and for the time-strapped business owner who can’t run the program themselves, it may grow to a cost of $300 per beacon per year.
  • Privacy and security conscious customers. A lot of customers don’t have their location services activated in their devices, rendering the messages useless.
  • Complexity of permissions. Some customers may not totally understand the privacy they’re giving up to a beacon. Their very low-tech nature means what they access on an individual’s device isn’t separated from the whole—meaning they can install software, access contacts, and follow a consumer’s location throughout the store. This could be invasive to some customers, who would rather deny the beacons access at all rather than have their every move known.
  • Too many messages. Customers may become annoyed with too many messages or not having signed up in the first place. The offers and information provided may not make up for the pushy nature of the notifications.

Beacon marketing has a lot of potential for business owners.

Any marketing expert can tell you, however, there’s a balance to be struck between effective and invasive marketing strategies using them. But unlike now-defunct QR codes, beacons don’t rely entirely on the customer’s effort to get the information about your products and services.

As customer behavior studies show, value-driven marketing campaigns do result in higher open rates, higher conversion rates, and more customer loyalty.

Used right, beacons can be another tool in a greater marketing strategy that benefits both your customer and your business.

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