At the time when many retailers are searching for a perfect user experience as a sort of cure-all solution for their woes, it is little wonder that their efforts brought to light new ways of using already existing technologies. As UX has imposed itself as a guiding beacon among business models, a less metaphorical source of innovation was found through in-store beacons which have finally matured enough to enjoy widespread adoption among forward-thinking retailers. In addition to offering a seamless fusion of offline and online shopping experiences, they established themselves as a solution for winning the favor of clients and influencing their shopping habits. If this is not good enough for you, stay with us for a couple of minutes to learn how in-store beacons can become one of the best things to happen to your retail business.
Under the Hood
Beacons emerged as a response to what customers have come to appreciate as part of their online shopping experience, its personalization. When shopping online, the whole of their interaction with products is subtly guided by the shopping patterns they exhibited earlier, based on gathered analytical data. Thanks to this, e-commerce stores managed to offer a highly personalized experience to them, in form of special offers and product suggestions based on previous shopping history. This was found largely lacking when the clients came to physical retail stores for the same purpose.
In a drive to offer enhanced user experience, retailers turned to beacons. In essence, these are low-cost transmitters using Bluetooth Smart technology to send messages to customers based on their relative proximity to the store/beacon. Installed beacons interact with retailer applications already installed on customers’ smartphones with a range of transmission going from 1 to 70 or even 450 meters.
Beacons as Pillars of Marketing Intelligence
At the most basic level, received messages offer relevant store-related information to the customers who have installed the appropriate brand’s application. They include promotional offers, information on new products or digital coupons, all of which serve as an invitation to enter the store. Yet, making the customer cross the doorstep is (literally) only one step, necessitating turning the beacons into devices which will ensure that shoppers come back as often as possible.
This is made possible by making beacons one of the pillars of long-term retail marketing strategy. By interacting with customers’ applications and learning their movements, retailers are able to receive valuable information about foot traffic and real-life behavior of customers in brick-and-mortar stores. They are also used for gathering data on in-store traffic, providing insight into its patterns as well as the length of customers’ shopping sessions. For example, they can learn how long the customers stays before a particular beacon-powered display, thus informing product and ad placement segments of marketing campaigns.
At the same time, beacons not only help with marketing campaign design, as they can be used to check their outcomes as well. For example, Google’s own Eddystone beacon platform was used to check the impact of search and local ads on visits to retail stores in form of a study. The study showed that the use of mobile search ads has driven the number of store visits well above the number of online purchase conversions. Used in this manner, beacons have become an important marketing evaluation tool, which will only cement their future with the marketers’ crowd.
Beacons of Hope: UX Personalization
The use of beacons in retail is not limited to marketing applications, as they are now utilized to deliver a next-gen level of customer service as well. In accordance with a general demand for personalization of shopping experience, these devices help retailers learn as much as they can about customers prior to directly engaging them.
For example, beacons can be used to read the customer’s loyalty cards and information contained in their saved wishlists or Pinterest tags. This information becomes available to sales assistants who use them to learn more about the customers, without having to interrupt their shopping experience with a line of questioning. For instance, customers who frequent discount racks can be identified so sales associates can give them information on items that are currently on sale in this category.
This can become an automatized process, as well. If, for example, a shopper buys a clothing item at a retail store, this can be easily followed up by sending him/her a complementary offer of another item via e-mail or application, based on the data collected by beacons. The offered item can be made available for purchase both online or at a physical outlet, while the notifying of buyers in this manner can be automatic whenever they happen to come in the proximity of the store.
Recognizing beacons’ potential for shopping personalization, American clothing and accessories retailer American Eagle Outfitters used its Shopkick beacon app to welcome customers with a personalized message whenever they entered a store. This message also contained information on rewards, special offers, discount and product recommendations. UK retailer House of Fraser went even further by integrating beacons with its store mannequins which send messages on the items of clothing they wear, as well as their locations within a store.
Less than a quarter of retailers have no plans for beacons, whatsoever [Image Credit: eMarketer]
Beacon-Based Messaging Influences Shopping Habits
As it became clear that interaction between beacons and customers rests on the use of downloaded applications, this initially raised some worries that this prerequisite may hurt efforts aimed at the popularization of beacons. Yet, these fears were dispelled when a study by Swirl has shown that 73% shoppers who received beacon-triggered messages via apps said that this increased probability of them buying items during a store visit. At the same time, 61% of them said that receiving these messages made them come to visit stores more frequently.
Yet, retailers responded to this app dependency by offering customers attractive multimedia content with them, even through the use of third-party apps, instead of internally developed ones. At the same time, developers are advised to put themselves in the shopper’s shoes and try to imagine the type of messages they would love to receive via these apps. In order to ensure their relevancy, these messages contain real-time offers to buyers inside a store, together with received descriptions of products upon detecting customers in their proximity.
These messages can be easily outfitted with attractive graphical, video and animation presentations, which allows retailers to fully leverage existing technology to engage customers as profoundly as possible. French multinational retail chain Carrefour recognized the potential of this technology to drive its customer engagement rate up by an astounding 400%. They designed intuitive applications that customers use to find their way at stores more easily, with the help of information on products and specialized offers specific to each of the store’s departments.
Finally, beacons also found their use at the end of the customer’s journey, by promising to do away with problems plaguing queue management. Stores with installed beacons now allow users to pay in real time with their smartphones, without having to fiddle with their wallet or cards.
And that’s huge. Research has confirmed that a vast majority of shoppers would avoid a store with long queues. Intel and Box Technologies conducted research back in 2015, concluding that 86 percent of shoppers are frustrated with long queues and would just avoid the store.
What’s more, 70 percent said they’re unlikely to return.
In-store beacons are merging digital shopping experiences with the physical store, giving CX a significant boost. The CX currently rests on technology’s ability to deliver highly localized and contextual customer experience. It benefits from being able to answer to the empowered customer’s need to have access to detailed product information, timely notifications about available offers and frictionless payment. As such, beacons go beyond being a passing fad or buzzword, and are poised to become a retail mainstay in no time.