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The Emerging Technology of Beacons

By: Monique Muldrow

Imagine walking in to your favorite store and being sent relevant discounts or offers based on your purchasing history. You might be in the electronics section of a department store and you get a message about that new TV you’re thinking of buying. Or, you’re at a concert and receive a coupon for the band’s new album. This location-relevant communication is an increasingly popular form of marketing and is accomplished via beacon technology.

Beacons are small, low-energy Bluetooth sensors that can sync with other nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices. By being focused on people’s micro-location, companies can easily target these devices to exchange information. Right now, the primary uses are in the retail space such as the ones I mentioned above. Several companies are embracing beacon technology as a means of engaging their customers when they are already in buying mode at the store. Beacon technology is starting to creep outside the retail realm into other intriguing spaces. The NFL used beacons earlier this year as an event marketing technique at the Super Bowl in New York. Discounts, location-specific directions, and more were sent via beacons to people with the NFL mobile app on their phone. The San Francisco International Airport is piloting beacons in an attempt to guide blind travelers through their busy terminals. By strategically placing beacons (cost: approximately $20 each) throughout the airport, they can connect with users who have downloaded their app and send voice prompts with precise directions to their gate. However, this emerging technology isn’t free of concerns. Security and privacy are two key hurdles to the adoption of beacons. For starters, users will potentially need to have an app already downloaded on their phone. Plus, opt-in clauses could prove to be barriers to entry for consumers. Regardless, there is a big buzz around beacon technologies and it probably won’t be long before you start seeing offers as well.

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