In technology circles, beacons are the topic du jour; one of the biggest buzz makers as 2013 rushes to an end. It’s no wonder – the technology has the potential to be one of the biggest innovations to affect the customer experience since the smartphone. Beacons’ ability to bridge the online and offline world in new ways and reduce friction between customer and brand interactions will enable instant customer identification empowering brand representatives on the front lines to provide personal welcomes. Mobile payment adoption will speed up. Companies will optimize revenue through demand-based offers and pricing, a la Uber.
The focus of the conversation around water coolers has primarily been focused on the retail industry. Apple recently unveiled its iBeacon strategy, introducing the technology at all of its retail stores. The potential for beacons in the retail environment are vast: shoppers will be reminded about their favorite items and receive immediate, actionable messages (The sweater on your wish list is on the 2nd Floor. Don’t forget to try it on!); consumers will get personalized deals based on their past purchases and preferences, loyalty level, and propensity to buy or share; and proximity marketing will entice people to enter stores with tailored information on new products or sales.
The net that beacons will cast, however, is far wider than the retail scenario, especially when, according to Forbes, Apple has laid the groundwork for every iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad sold since the iPhone 4S into an iBeacon. Here are some of the most exciting use cases that no one is talking about yet:
Travel: Airlines and hotels can use beacons to personally welcome travelers, upsell products and services and allow for frictionless payment for add-ons (Hi Myles! It’s a full flight today! Touch here to pay $10.99 for priority boarding.). Real-time demand-based offers would also allow travel providers to optimize revenue. A cancellation at a hotel spa, for instance, could immediately trigger a last-minute offer to guests based on loyalty level who are currently on the property. With new FAA guidelines, beacon technology could streamline the in-flight experience, including food and drink orders, and update the crew of travelers’ preferences and requirements (Frequent flier Taylor Smith in 9A has a peanut allergy).
Real estate: Beacons could be placed at open houses to instantly remind agents about prospective homebuyers’ tastes and preferences, allowing Realtors to highlight the property features that would excite each potential buyer. The homebuyer would receive messages as she moves throughout the property – pointing out unique traits or information (The master bathroom was redone last year. The wood in the vanity was imported from Africa.)
Property management: Luxury apartment buildings and condominiums could take advantage of beacons to provide a unique and engaging tenant experience. Doormen would personally welcome all residents, and property managers could disseminate personalized and relevant messages and information. (Welcome home, Laurie! You had a package delivered today. Please stop by the mail room.) When units become available, beacons could alert passers by who are on the market to move, providing pictures and information as well as the ability to schedule a viewing.
Dining: Beacons would empower wait staff to better serve their customers by knowing their preferences and special requests without the repeat customer having to restate it (Jeff at table 2D prefers no ice in his water). Restaurateurs could also automate promotions based on real-time inventory factors (Salmon Special! — when there is a surplus) or seating capacity (Tonight only! Free dessert with a purchase of $30) to fill tables.
Media: Traditional and new media properties would use beacons in cafés, waiting rooms and lobbies to provide full or partial access to a broad audience. For instance, a local café could subscribe in order to provide its patrons with a reading content and entertainment while they enjoy their morning breakfast.
Gas stations: Since the advent of “pay at the pump,” ancillary sales at gas stations have decreased significantly. Beacons could not only facilitate contactless payments, but could alert drivers of specials to tempt them into the station (Buy one 12 pack of any Coca-Cola product, get one free!)
Beacon technology will significantly enhance the customer journey – from discovery and research to payment and reviews – and we will see savvy marketers bringing beacons into their physical environments early next year. Brands across multiple industries need to start experimenting with proximity marketing and getting creative with engagement campaigns that hold the key to personal and profitable customer relationships.