Talk to me, not my phone

The emergence of online shopping has posed a real threat to high-street retailers, and they have a battle on their hands to get consumers off their laptops, out their houses and back in their shops.  Connectivity and convenience are the key to the success of online retail, but it's time for the high-street to fight fire with fire.  On the high-street, in-stores and in shopping centres perhaps the key to winning customers back also lies in connectivity. The problem is that smartphones regularly struggle inside buildings to receive good signals, and wi-fi often requires the user to log-in.  There a couple of ways to tackle this problem.  Asda for example offer free wi-fi: users have to complete a one time log-in process but there after are free to access wi-fi across all their stores.  Beacon technology is a particularly interesting potential solution to the problem, and if major players such as Apple continue to embrace it, then it has every chance of taking off.

Beacons use BLE (bluetooth low energy) technology to create a network and enable data transmissions to smartphones. Beacons can come in all different forms but most common at the moment are small battery powered devices discretely located around the walls of stores and shopping centres that give coverage of up to 50 metres.

One of the possible applications of beacon technology would see Smartphone users receive welcome messages straight to their device when they enter a store, and be notified of special deals and discounts when they are in a relevant part of the store.

"45 per cent of mobile consumers would be willing to receive such retailer messages"

Some people might find that kind of shopping experience overly intrusive but beacon technology would be an entirely opt-in affair. What’s more, a survey by eDigital Research concluded that 45 per cent of mobile consumers would be willing to receive such retailer messages.  The data the use of beacon technology creates for retailers and businesses certainly makes it worthwhile for them to incentivise as many people as possible to accept beacon connectivity.

But I still think, retailers might have a major task on their hands to get widespread adoption if the only benefit is offers delivered as I travel around the store.  For me at least, notifications and messages that simply tell me about a deal that could easily have been on a poster doesn't seem enough of an attraction.  Turning my phone into a walking billboard is a turn-off.

However, integrated with an identity solution such as Ensygnia's Onescan, beacons could become an entirely different proposition.  A system that knows who you are and not just where you are, can deliver a personalised and targeted service.  An identity solution like Onescan could make the customer service experience seamless between online and in-store. Customers could get notified of deals regarding products they are known to have purchased before - or even get an offer in-store on something they have looked at online but not yet purchased.  That’s talking to me, not my phone.

"A system that knows who you are and not just where you are, can deliver a personalised and targeted service"

Beacon technology is in its infancy in the UK but we have already seen a number of interesting developments and trials in 2014. In March the Swan Centre in Eastleigh became the first UK shopping centre to utilize beacon technology using a SmartRewards app  that gave access to to all sorts of shopping and cinema deals using codes pushed through to Smartphones.

Away from the retail world, Beacon technology has also been used to push information to travellers.  Virgin Atlantic, for example, has started to trial the use of beacons at Heathrow - pushing information about flight gates, boarding times and delays.  Virgin has even pushed airport maps, the in-flight movie schedule and the dinner menu on long-haul flights.

This month, Waitrose became the latest major player to test and trial beacon technology.  At its concept store in Swindon, Waitrose is trialing a number of new technologies aimed at improving the shopping experience and extending their relationship with customers.  Speaking at the store, Waitrose's IT director Cheryl Millington said a beacon solution could act like a 'personal assistant' to help shoppers.

We think Waitrose are on the right lines with this approach.  But of course a personal assistant needs to know who you are not just where you; and that’s where Ensygnia can help - by communicating relevantly with people, not just with their Smartphones.

By Matthew Taylor

6th May 2014