Beacons: what do they have to tell (you)? (part 2)

In this second part of our iBeacon series, we present some interesting applications and we will explain why the deployment sometimes needs a litte more time than your average project. 


Areas of application

Since the launch of iBeacons, a lot projects with iBeacons have been created, and this in many and very different sectors: 

Currently most existing cases can be found in retail. iBeacons are mainly used in retail to offer promotions (coupons, discounts, ...) or to provide relevant information when customers are approaching a product or a certain shelf in a store. But they can also be used for loyalty programs, product tagging, sharing and gamification and numerous other things to encourage buying.

In addition, retailers can also use beacons to quickly request information about the customer: areas of interest, previous purchases, number of store visits,... Beacons are also frequently used at airports, in tourism, museums and educational projects.

We, The Reference/Mobile, eg. developed a project for Concertgebouw Brugge (the concerthall of Bruges) where we have used iBeacons in an interactive art installation that illustrates WWI with sounds. In this specific 'sound machine' we reversed the iBeacon concept. We installed iBeacons in 5 different timpani sticks. There is an iPhone on a fixed location in the center of the installation, in the trunk of a tree, surrounded by bombshells hanging from the branches. Visitors can walk around and beat with the timpani sticks on the shells to make sounds. The iPhone constantly measures the distance of the iBeacons to the phone and does all the smart logic. This way visitors can activate a remarkable sound library: as a reaction to the iBeacons moving around, an explosive sound avalanche is created. The same iPhone also controlles a fog machine. This machine starts creating smoke as soon as visitors perform a certain combination with the sticks. The combination of the smoke and the realistic compilation of the sounds, fired at the soldiers and civilians during WWI, results in an overwhelming experience to the eyes and ears!

Recently we won (together with Emakina Austria) an “Austrian E-Award” voor for an iBeacon integration for food giant BILLA:

I believe that the following Nivea case is one of the greatest examples of the use of iBeacons. A while ago, Niveau published an ad with an integrated paper bracelet. Parents could tear out the bracelet from the magazine and put it around the wrist of their children. There was a low budget beacon in this bracelet, linked to the Nivea application that mum or dad of course first needed to download. Once on the beach, parents received a notification on their smartphone when their child went outside a predefined zone. In short, an ideal mix of smart marketing, simplicity, functionality, innovation and originality.

A difficult start: why?

Since 2014 we have seen a multitude of initiatives with iBeacons . Nevertheless we see that they do not seem conquer the market as fast as we expected. In my opinion this is due to the following causes:

Beacons are primarily used for their innovative character. We find companies make the same mistakes in the use of QR tags. QR tags are a trend so companies find that they need to set them up to be trendy, a decision often initiated by marketing departments. The added value or utility is often only considered after the urgency of being part of the trend, and this results in a lot of redundant QR-tags. More than often, Beacon-concepts only bring a generic non personalized message or incite an action that you could simply perform within the app. Hence the majority of beacons are not really necessary. As with QR tags, originality is often missing in Beacon projects, and often a shabby elaboration and implementation are the case.

Next to this, the mindset of those who want to implement iBeacons first needs to change. Only this way they will be able to implement iBeacons correctly in the pre/during and after customer journey. The marketing strategy needs to be adopted to a 'customer first relationship', in a strong, personalized 1 on 1 relationship. A lot of companies are not there yet, let alone that the customer has already grown accustomed to all these new possibilities.

End-users often interact with beacons out of curiosity and often expect to see an extraordinary effect. More than often, this results in a rather dissapointing or bad experience (‘That's it?') and the urge to further discover and use beacons disappears. However, the real power lies in the functional services that immediately deliver a clear added value.

Concerns about privacy are a threshold as well for this new technology. Precise localization via smartphones, targeted personal deals, detailed knowledge about buying behavior…These are things that most people fear. Definitely when they do not immediately see or understand the added value. Therefore it is extremely important to clearly indicate in the shop (and in the app) that beacons are used. As a merchant, you need to clearly explain why and wherefore they are used. Always include a brief explanation why customers need to activate their location detection, what exactly they can expect, why they should do it and how they can easily turn it off, if they want. All this is essential for a good adoption. Make sure that the customers know that beacons only trace location in the shop and nowhere else. Not every user knows the technical background, after all.

Technological constraints are an obstacle for the implementation on a larger scale. Fact is that today you only reach iPhone users. The Android market was flooded with often cheap Chinese appliances and the fragmentation of the hardware and different operation system versions only further increased. The guarantee that an Android appliance is beacon compatible remains fuzzy. In addition, there is a compatibility and quality difference in beacon hardware, but also in the SDK’s to detect and configure the beacons. If the result of the technology is unpredictable, and the system does not work well, end-users will be scared off.

Uncertainty about the future technology. The setup of beacons involves certain costs: hardware, production or modification of the mobile application, the configuration, marketing, maintenance,… It is a new technology that actually, since its launch in 2013, has received little attention from Apple. They only did a few tests in their own Apple Stores. There was some talk about a new generation iBeacons which had to meet a number of imposed specifications. But we have not seen major innovations.

Is Apple waiting to introduce new functionalities because they, themselves, no longer believe in Beacons? Did they perhaps develop a new technology, so that iBeacons are no longer necessary for indoor location tracking, maybe working in combination with Apple Maps? Last year came to light that there was an invisible “Indoor Survey” app in the Apple Store. Only if you knew the direct link it was possible to install this app. You were able to log in with your iCloud credentials but further access was denied. So we can probably assume that some key partners have been very busy experimenting. And this does not always have to be on the basis of Bluetooth LE: other techniques like magnetic fields, WIFI and highly sensitive GPS chips (that also work within a building) begin to surface. Especially WIFI is popular because the infrastructure is often available and there is no additional application that needs to be downloaded. All these ambiguities cause companies to wait to implement Beacons on a large scale.


It is difficult to judge today if Beacons, at least in their current form, will continue to exist and which providers of beacon platforms will remain (A recent study of Adobe & Exonsultancy even shows a decreasing use of iBeacons.) and which working applications will survive on the basis of their use, ROI and added value for the user.
I strongly believe that beacons are an essential building block in the complete IOT-story and that all this needs to get a chance to grow further. But equally that a lot companies/organizations and end-users are not ready yet for proactive, context sensitive and highly personalized services. Because of this, these companies are too carefull with context awareness and to scared to show relevant information on the basis of user profiles. But the added value of beacons is exactly there: functional services that can provide immediate value. At the right time, without intervention and information overload of the end-user. The technology is ready… are you too?

 Intrigued by iBeacons and how you can use them for your business? Contact TheReference/Mobile today! 


Don't miss out

It's more than digital, it's your business
The Reference is nothing without its customers. Carglass is the car window repair and replacement specialist for whom we've built a fully responsive Sitecore website. Read more about this client.