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Practical Steps to an iBeacon-Capable Retail Empire

By Bret Cunningham, president, BestFit Mobile

At the brick-and-mortar level, consumers are most readily drawn to new shopping experiences that deliver immediate value through context, personalization, service and engagement. Retailers also stand to benefit by acquiring insight, building efficiency and promoting differentiation - all things that are in turn meant to again benefit the customer. iBeacons are a mechanism that can strengthen all of these values. By following a careful set of guidelines for a smooth transition into iBeacon capable solutions, retailers can obtain the most customer satisfaction and the greatest return on a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) investment.

Crawl, Walk, Run
When it comes to implementing Bluetooth Smart technology, start small. We encourage our clients to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach, by first adopting simple use cases such as welcoming customers to the store, letting them ask for help or digital queuing. These fairly basic functions help alleviate common shopper pain points and establish clear metrics to drive ROI. Never implement anything without a concrete marketing plan that details the complete lifecycle, and an integrated application.
 
It’s important to remember there is a learning curve for everyone – you, your staff and your customers.  Take the time to experiment and figure out the optimal strategy -- one that aligns with your business, brand and marketing goals. Throughout the process, gather feedback from all parties – operations, staff on the floor and shoppers – to see what makes the most sense for advancing the beacon-based solution strategy.

Own the Experience, Own the Data
Both retailers and consumers will derive the most value from an iBeacon capable solution if it is baked into the retailer’s own branded app, with a special in-store experience. We encourage retailers to drive engagement through their own app and own the data experience.  Consumer receptivity will be more positive, and usage rates will be higher if the retail location’s application leverages an SDK and shoppers are not expected to download a third-party application.

After launch, it’s crucial to advertise your application heavily within your stores. Let shoppers know cool new tools are at their disposal, and a simple download and opt-in could add significant value to their time there. When they step into your store, consider sending a push notification to welcome, extend an offer and query if they’re interested in a richer shopping experience – maybe one that includes wayfinding! Some retailers’ sole interest in Bluetooth is to focus on the analytics side, and silently analyze interactions to educate operations and enhance future shopping experiences. Analytics may be golden, but retailers should never attempt to track anyone without their consent.

Arm the In-Store Associate
Put tools in the hands of your employees that empower them and make them even more valuable assets to shoppers. Tablets can provide a window to extended product information, buying histories, wish lists and recommendation engines. Give them real-time visibility to the entire floor plan, and discover where shoppers are browsing. Let them know immediately when a shopper asks for “help” from their consumer-facing app. With Bluetooth Smart, sales associates can even pass information directly to shoppers’ Bluetooth 4.0 enabled devices to help them make more informed buying decisions.
 
Pass Value to the Consumer
The more targeted you can make your offers, the better. Consumers probably don’t want to hear about your awesome sale on microwaves when they came to shop for televisions. Typically, location and dwell time are easiest to measure first, and will bridge the way to opportunities to build baskets and increase loyalty. If you know an individual is physically in Electronics and dwelling in front of the TVs, the sales associate can push offers on the hottest universal remotes or sound systems. In these cases, messages must be relevant, must be timely and must be delivered in moderation.
 
Take a thorn out of the side of many customers’ retail experiences, and use Bluetooth Smart to dissolve the hated queue.  Customers won’t have to wait in single file to make a return, check out or visit the tech help desk. They can select a time in the future to be served or browse while they wait for assistance after being placed in a digital queue, which sets a clear expectation for when service can be provided.
 
Excite the End User
 Proximity-based technologies, such as Bluetooth Smart, present unique challenges for mobile designers. Radio interference and signal strength are critical, and beacon placement must always be tested thoroughly. Beacon interactions can be encouraged with visible triggers or remain invisible to the naked eye, so it’s necessary to decide which route you want to take. Do you want your solution to center around a call-to-action to inspire engagement or would you prefer to let “magic” happen, and delight shoppers on-the-fly?

As users’ knowledge and comfort with the technology grows, they will expect increasingly creative applications of BLE. People, places, and things - even moving things - can all play roles as mediums for beacons.  Creating the right plan, typically in partnership with an experienced solutions provider, will help solidify your execution and greatly increase the success of your program.


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