Imagine reading a message in your Facebook news feed about the latest sneakers from your favorite brand. You "like" the image. Three days later you are walking along a city street when your telephone vibrates and alerts you to a special sale on these shoes at a shop around the corner. And that's not all: an app guides you through the store until you are standing directly in front of them. This vision of the future could soon become a reality. And Apple is once again the "guilty" party, with the "iBeacon" feature in Version 7 of its iOS mobile operating system unleashing a veritable wave of euphoria among developers of apps, software solutions and mobile payment systems.
In contrast to the longstanding Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the Bluetooth based beacon technology allows for inexpensive coverage of entire areas. The resulting options are numerous, beginning with simple indoor navigation based on orientation points and location-specific tips – for example store specials or exhibits at a museum – to customer loyalty programs, access control, visitor traffic management and even payment processing.
iBeacons could someday even "revolutionize stationary retailing", maintains Achim Himmelreich, a partner at Mücke, Sturm & Co. consultants. And Belgian startup "Proxible" has an app which, in combination with beacon hardware, represents
"the most effective way to retain customers and get them back to the store,"
according to the company. The company says this can be achieved on the basis self-generating reward systems, independent of major loyalty programs. Using the Proxible set consisting of an app, beacon technology and developer's kit, even small-scale retailers can create incentives for customers to come back. One option would be to print a digital stamp in the consumer’s app bonus booklet for each visit, for which the app would generate a discount code after a certain number of visits.
Alternatively, different providers could join together and enhance the consumer's incentive to visit local businesses. If a consumer, for example, buys a ham at the butcher’s shop, he or she would then receive a discount code for a nearby bookstore. Or visitors to an office supply store could collect bonus points for the local movie house or toy store. It is already possible to leave your wallet at home and pay directly with your smartphone. Initial results are in for the "Apple Pay" system in the U.S., and they are consistently positive: At McDonald's almost every second payment is allegedly already being made via smartphone. And in Germany the Rewe supermarket chain is currently testing this an option, although the jury is still out.
But beacon technology stands to revolutionize more than just retailing – it can also be employed at event locations such as theme parks, zoos, museums, theaters or stadiums. Proxible calls its product "Leisure in a Box" , which can be used to manage visitor traffic or to distribute information to visitors. The Berlin startup Sensorberg offers a similar product combination.
For the operator this is doubly worthwhile, as it can increase customer satisfaction by offering shorter waiting times and augment the visitor experience on the one hand, while gathering detailed information on visitor behavior on the other: Which attractions were especially popular? Where did visitors linger the longest? And where and when did they take a break? This information can be used to improve and individualize offerings. If a restaurant is too crowded, for example, beacon technology can be used to send the user a coupon for a discounted meal at a less-frequented location.
Even in private settings, iBeacon promises elementary changes. German startup Airfy, for instance, uses beacons to hook smart phones up with household appliances. The radio goes on as soon as you enter the room, or the light is turned off when you exit. On the way out your smartphone reminds you to take your wallet, which you forgot on top of your dresser.
The solutions from the Kaiserslautern-based startup Asandoo are more focused on safety than on convenience. Using a number of cable-free sensors, the system monitors motion, especially motion inside dwellings of the aged or infirm. Similar to a home emergency system, an alarm alerts predefined contacts once certain criteria are fulfilled – automatically, without the active input of the subject. If no movement has taken place for a long time or if movement is confined to a single room, the system infers an unusual situation – for example a fall. This concept enhances personal safety at a minimum outlay.