Apple’s got its eye on you, the consumer gadget behemoth is watching you as you wander about it’s store. Armed with the power to push you toward product, iBeacon – Apples instore location technology – will feed you all the information you need to make your Apple Store experience much more efficient, and much more… well, Applesh
Apple demonstrated the technology to journalists at it’s Fifth Avenue store in New York City on Friday. And while Apple isn’t the first to offer instore mapping – Macy’s teamed up with Shopkick last month to deliver the first retail-based iBeacons in it’s new York and San Francisco stores – Apple’s foray into this fast evolving technology is expected to boost uptake.
Apple first introduced iBeacon at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June this year, though the technology isn’t new, however the introduction of Bluetooth 4.0 has revolutionised it’s use.
iBeacons can be adjusted to highlight specific products as they allow for extremely precise indoor positioning, distinguishing between locations or items that are less than a metre apart, which isn’t possible with traditional GPS ::::
Apple’s store integration of iBeacon marks the company’s large-scale entry into this superhot emerging technology. Known as micro-location or place-based marketing field, it’s set to revolutionise not only how consumers shop, but how detailed data is deliver. Apple said iBeacon will provide consumers with “A new level of micro-location awareness, just like trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores.”
The implications of iBeacon go far beyond Apple stores, indeed Apple is late to this party, as a legacy to the technology iBeacon is built on, the app also allows customers to scan and pay for some items, get customer service help, pick-up items and reserve products using a smartphone or tablet.
In-store location technology does raise a few privacy concerns, though a majority of customers have shown a willingness to be tracked if there’s something in it for them. Apple has always been solid at getting people to use it’s new technologies, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies will likely follow suit with their own location technology.
The future of the technology is broad, from marketing campaigns, retail, public transport, the uses are endless. Beaming detailed information to subscribing users goes well beyond pushing a product or service.
Over the past couple of years a slurry of smaller startups have sprung up offering services designed to gather more information about shoppers, serving up hyper-targeted deals to entice and excite. The idea is to improve a traditional stores’ ability to compete against e-commerce giants like Amazon, which already know bucket-loads about their users’ digital shopping habits.
Within the Apple Store, as well as shopping cues, users can be notified when the computer they ordered is ready for pickup, flash your order number at a Genius Bar team member via your mobile device and your order’s fetched without paperwork. The services are neat, but lets be honest, Apple is all about the sell, stroll by an iPhone table? You might get a message asking if you want to upgrade, check your upgrade availability and see if you can get money for trading in your old phone.
The transmitting beacons are super flexible, they can be adjusted to a specific distances, so you might get some notifications regardless of where you are within the store, others are received only when your standing a specific distance from the beacon.
The new technology has been rolled out to all 254 of the company’s US stores. The iBeacon software was included in Apple’s recent iOS 7 update for the company’s mobile devices, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Apple isn’t the first to offer in-store location technology. An app called Shopkick, has been running iBeacon for a little over a month in Macy’s New York and San Francisco stores.
Shopkick started life in 2010 as an instore promotion tool – picked up by Target in the US – it’s quickly developed to include a full suite of location-based customer experiences.
Shopkick is currently streets ahead of iBeacon, it offers comprehensive retail marketing that is entirely scaleable, from customer rewards, themed shopping, shopping lists, sharing gift ideas and a fully integrated payment system. Shopkick also has a list of participating US stores that goes beyond impressive, including: Target, Macy’s, best By, Old Navy, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Bath and Body Works and Urban Outfitters.
“Shopping happens when you feel like it, whether in store or at home on the couch. We want to make sure Shopkick is there, wherever and whenever.” Cyriac Toeding, CEO and co-founder of Shopkick said. “We’re working towar integrating discovery, payment, loyalty and promotions into one app across mobile platforms. Retailers want to be relevant to shoppers’ and Shopkick delivers tyhe right touch-points at the right moments in a shoppers journey from couch to cash register.
Shoppers are spending more time shopping online, apps like iBeacon and Shopkick are crucial to the integration of traditional retail into the online world, as well as increasing the shoppers experience while in-store. Shoppers are spending more and more time online via mobile devices – 70 minutes a day on PC vs 127 minutes a day on mobile devices – according to a recent survey by Adobe, the shoppers experience was amplified even more between devices, with Tablet users viewing 70 percent more pages than smartphone users.
Shopkick says that in the 12 months since it’s launch, users have viewed over 1 billion products in it’s iPad App alone.
The upside of Apple’s entry into micro-location, is that it puts the technology into the hands of thousands of developers and broadens its reach considerably, the app is also available for android devices via Google Play.
Who’s Watching You Now?
Location tracking does raise privacy concerns, shoppers may not want their every move tracked and recorded inside a store. Apple said in a statement that it “does not collect information about shoppers inside its stores.” The company said notices are triggered when the app senses a location beacon nearby, without Apple’s beacon needing to even know you’re there.
That’s not to say the technology can’t be abused, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the various ways that retailers track shoppers, whether it’s their location, purchase history or how often they visit a store. But consumers often agree to be tracked in exchange for discounts.
Earlier this year Nordstrom had to suspend a Wi-Fi-based tracking program after it was revealed the shopping habits of users were being tracked. A Nordstrom spokesperson, Tara Darrow, told CBS that “Sensors within stores collected data from customers smartphones as the attempted to connect to Wi-Fi services. The sensors monitored which department customers visited and how much time they spent there.” Ms Darrow said that the sensors were not able to track customers once they had exited the Nordstrom store, nor did the tracking giveaway any personal information.
Apple confirmed it does not store any personal information through iBeacon. The technology is designed to only work one way, from the hardware to the phone. The hardware component emits a signal and the phone recognizes it, but nothing is sent back to the hardware, an Apple spokesperson said.
Beyond improving the bottom line for its own stores, Apple hopes its iBeacon technology will usher in all sorts of innovative new applications.
More creative features are likely on the way, an explosion of users is likely. America’s nation pastime – MLB -Major League Baseball has plans to rollout iBeacon next year to customise fans’ experiences at its ballparks. Almost 80,000,000 fans are expected to attend an MLB game next year, and the league hopes that through its “At The Ballpark” app, fans will become even more besotted by the game. In a demo earlier this year, MLB officials showed how the app can offer special features based on users’ location in a stadium, such as coupons in the souvenir shop or a video that plays near landmarks.
A Boost to Australian Retailers
Alex Topaloski from location-based marketing powerhouse Proximiti says retailers are likely to pick up this technology with vigor.
“Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a significant shift in companies’ appetite to trial new technologies,” Mr Topaloski said. “iBeacon and similar BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy – technology is currently a bit ‘green’ but the technology will mature and be proven in market.”
Mr Topaloski said a number of retailers are already tinkering with iBeacon sensors. But the opportunity is much broader than the retail segment. We see significant opportunities in other segments like banking, auto, entertainment and even mining.
Mr Topaloski believes there are two distinct opportunities on how retailers will be using this technology:
- A step-change in being able to engaging users with personalised marketing interactions around real-world locations like shops, landmarks and sporting venues.
- The technology opens a new dimension in how customers are being serviced inside shops, branches and dealerships. This will unleash a new wave of innovation that will enrich ‘the shopping experience’. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered for ‘bricks and mortar’ operators.
Mr Topaloski says that this new technology is a very elegant solution to a big, but often ignored, problem facing the digital industry. “How do you link the offline and online worlds? We hold a contentious view about the digital industry. All hype aside, it actually has a poor track record in translating digital ‘engagement’ to real-world consumer actions.”
With tradition retailers feeling the pinch from online sales, iBeacon and similar technologies might be the driver that levels out the playing field, clearly shoppers prefer the tactility of the in-store experience. Mr Topaloski believes the technology might be that bridge.
“Do businesses have a plan on how to get a customer from their website or mobile app to a nearby shop or cash register? This is the ‘last mile’ of the customer journey that digital advertisers don’t usually talk about. We have a lot of strong views about this. We happen to think iBeacon will help a long way in solving these challenges.” he said.
Like all new technologies however, businesses thinking about experimenting with iBeacon technology need to get some solid advice and plan carefully.
“Along with its benefits, these customer interactions introduce new challenges and layers of complexities,” Mr Topaloski said. ” Once businesses start working with iBeacon, they will also start appreciating how rich and powerful the data and insights are.”
He advises businesses to look hard at who they work with on implementing the technology.
Apple Australia says they have no official roll-out date for the technology – within it’s Australian Apple Stores – however, if history is a reliable measure, we can expect to see the technology beaming out of stores in around six months.
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