Going Beyond Geo-Location

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Though geo-location continues to revolutionize the way companies communicate with consumers, emerging tools, such as Apple's iBeacon, are poised to bring brand relationships to the next level.

From in-store to online, companies strive to be where their customers are. But, since the introduction of GPS technology and geo-location, organizations have also begun to embrace the mobile devices that put their brands directly in the consumer's hand.

When companies first began integrating geo-location, the primary goal was to determine shoppers' basic visitation and purchase habits. Through opt-in programs and mobile applications, brands would then use the GPS and behavioral data collected to target consumers in real time. This strategy, which has gained great traction in the retail space, allows companies to detect when customers are nearby so they may send them a relevant offer or coupon that encourages them to visit the brick-and-mortar location, or contact them with a survey about their purchase immediately following the interaction.

"Geo-location enhances the conversation with the consumer by being relevant," says Andrew Jeavons, CEO of Survey Analytics. "Talking to someone about a store visit three days after they [came in] is rather pointless. The consumer may not even remember the visit. With geo-location information, we can start the conversation at the right time in the right place. Engagement and loyalty are a function of communication, and geo-location information makes such communications relevant to the consumer."

Consumers find it far more interesting to receive offers and rewards when they are actually shopping, adds Jeavons. By interjecting during the shopping experience, retailers find that customers are far more likely to act upon the incentive or information than if they were to receive such messaging when at home on their computers. However, as most retailers will agree, it's not always easy to present the correct incentive or reward to consumers because the accuracy of GPS often varies. Geo-location typically fails to provide precise coordinates, impeding the benefits of such targeted rewards and value-added offers.

But, as companies begin to adapt to the changing marketing landscape, the space is set to evolve once again. With Apple's iBeacon technology, retailers and marketers across industries may finally have the effective, accurate tool they need to truly target the consumer right where they stand.

Introduced last summer as a part of Apple's iOS7 launch, iBeacon technology utilizes the latest version of Bluetooth technology, known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE provides continuous, low-power connectivity that preserves battery life while allowing devices to constantly communicate with one another. Such low-cost tools also offer micro-location, which will allow companies to pinpoint consumers with a much greater degree of accuracy, going one step further than NFC or QR codes, as such hyper-sensitive geo-location abilities add a new level of immediacy to relevant targeting.

As Apple explained during its initial presentation, iBeacon technology allows organizations to connect the customer's data to his or her physical location with extreme precision. For instance, those visiting an art museum would be able to use their mobile devices-in this instance, an iPhone-to learn more about the artwork in their midst. Thus, instead of punching codes into a handheld tour guide device, the smartphone will automatically offer additional information about the work by pinpointing the patron's exact location, minimizing the amount of effort necessary to learn more.

Retailers are also beginning to understand the benefits of iBeacon technology as a way of guiding the in-store experience, helping customers shop for new items or pick up orders they've placed just by detecting their presence in the physical store. Stores that utilize iBeacon technology will be able to pinpoint the customer's location, down to the aisle, and provide dynamic pricing and information right in the moment. BLE offers constant connectivity, as it eliminates Bluetooth's original threat of battery drain. Organizations can also avoid losing sight of the consumer in signal-blocking stores that make it practically impossible to locate mobile devices via GPS and geo-location.

"The hope with GPS was precise location information, and while GPS information is critical, it can't locate a customer in a store," Jeavons says. "iBeacon has that promise."

Of course, retailers and various other companies will have to overcome the barriers that may limit wide adoption, such as opt-in permissions, enabling Bluetooth, and allowing location services, but such obstacles have been an integral factor during geo-location usage, as well. However, such technology continues to go vastly underutilized for most are simply in the consideration and testing stages. BLE and iBeacon technology hold much promise, but very few organizations have yet to implement test strategies, let alone full integration. Those that have begun to test these tools understand the promise, but are rolling out this technology slowly so as to create a sound foundation for future implementation.

Macy's Integrates Preliminary iBeacon Technology

As one of the leading department stores and retailers in the country, Macy's continues to embrace emerging technologies in the Retail 2.0 space. With iBeacon technology, Macy's hopes to offer highly personalized and tailored digital experiences during the shopping process. Macy's partnered with Shopkick to bring iBeacon capabilities to its New York City and San Francisco locations. Shoppers need only download the Shopkick app and the program will ping the consumers' devices when they enter the store. Currently, the application will only alert customers of relevant deals upon first entering the given retail location, but as Macy's begins to integrate iBeacon capabilities across the board, this strategy will allow the retailer to provide offers and notifications regarding sales and specials throughout the entire store. Here's a demonstration of how the technology works: