As Maps Move Indoors, Mobile Marketing Gets a Boost
Remember the world pre-Google maps? Sure, you could still find your way around but sometimes it took longer than necessary and you could get lost easily in new places (ok, you can still get lost even with Google maps). But mobile versions of mapping and positioning software have opened up our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined, with ‘near me’ search features and proximity-based recommendations, alerts and offers. Now think about how that could be applied within the retail environment.
Apple released iBeacon in iOS7 with little fanfare, but savvy retailers have quickly picked up on the possibilities. American Eagle and Macy’s are currently trialing the tech, Apple is rolling it out throughout its own stores, and Major League Baseball has plans to introduce it into stadums. iBeacon runs on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and is essentially Apple’s answer to the Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities of Android. And iBeacon works well indoors, where wi-fi and data networks can be patchy at best.
Where NFC has limited range and is primarily a payment facilitator, iBeacon’s wider range and higher bandwidth allows it to be used for more — although it’s still too low to send video. With iBeacon transmitters placed around stores and a range of 10 to 50 feet, enabled devices can process mobile payments and receive in-store maps detailed to the very floor or section of a store that the customer is in.
“Essentially iBeacon can transmit customized coupons or even walking directions to the aisle where a particular item is located,” wrote Hari Gottipatti in GigaOm. “It can prompt a customer with special promotions or personalized messages and recommendations based on their current location or past history with the company.”
Early testing indicates that an ad or promotion served up to a consumer in-aisle is 50 percent more effective than an ad they see at home. In addition to the customized apps being used by Macy’s, Home Depot and various other retailers, there are third-party apps that enable users to pull up indoor maps of, say, a shopping mall and find their way around. Providers of these apps, including aisle411 and Nokia, plan to sell ad space within the maps to enable retailers to market to consumers when they’re nearby. Shopping list functionality in all of these apps helps shoppers create a list at home and then map their way through a store or mall upon arrival. But perhaps the biggest promise of iBeacon is that it finally links online advertising and social media campaigns to offline activity.
Although some predict NFC’s death at the hands of iBeacon, it still has its place. NFC tags are much cheaper than iBeacon transmitters (<$1 versus ~$40), and the nature of the typical uses are very different. iBeacon is more a medium to push messages to consumers, while NFC requires consumer interaction and is already in use in contactless payments, transit cards and more around the world. Don’t expect either format to disappear any time soon.
How it works:
iBeacon: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – aka Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart. Consumes small amounts of energy so batteries last longer. Can transmit small files of data.
Near Field Communication: a low-range version of radio frequency identification.
iBeacon: Up to 150 feet. Some manufacturers recommend optimal ranges of 10 feet.
NFC: Up to 8 inches, though usually within 1.5 inches.
iBeacon: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
NFC: Android, Windows Phone
iBeacon: in-store navigation, location based marketing
NFC: contactless payments and transactions