Some believe fixed beacon technology is the new movement in the retail shopping experience, while others point out that adoption is extremely slow. We’re breaking down the benefits and drawbacks of beacon technology in retail and laying out an alternative for those looking to gather and use customer data in storefronts.

On the surface, using beacon technology in retail is pretty simple: A company creates a software-developed kit (SDK) to create a mobile app for a business or store. Customers then download the app for said store. Fixed beacons are placed under shelves in the storefront. When a customer who’s downloaded the mobile app stands near a particular beacon, the phone app reads the beacon, and data is sent from the phone over the air to the store. Because the store owner now knows precisely where customers are located at any given moment, relevant information can be fed to their phones via the mobile app to enhance their shopping experiences. For examples, take a look at either Gimbal or Estimote.

Now, beacon technology in retail sounds amazing—and has, in fact, sold well in some markets, especially when you consider all of its possible uses:

  • Helping customers find what they’re looking for: “Can’t find your size? Just click on the size you’re looking for, and a team member will come help you right away!
  • Understanding customer flow throughout the store.
  • Providing relevant coupons: “Like what you see? Take 30% off men’s jeans!”
  • Enticing customers shopping nearby to come inside the store.

But even with these innovative potential use cases, using beacon technology in retail isn’t without its issues—including barriers in human behavior and adoption (i.e., actually getting people to use a store’s mobile app while in the store) and natural complications with using a customer’s mobile phone as the backhaul channel for your data collection.

If you’re facing these issues, but you still see the value for data collection in your retail application, there are still location options available to you.

AirFinder is a simple real-time location system (RTLS) technology that removes reliance on a customer’s phone for your Bluetooth transmission. Instead of using a fixed beacon and a moving phone, you can use AirFinder as a way to detect a customer’s mobile phone app when it moves around without having to rely on the phone as a way to get the data back to you.

The fixed infrastructure sees a customer's phone beaconing its unique identifier, and data from the application is then received anonymously by AirFinder. Using this kind of “reverse beaconing” system in retail, you could track customer movement patterns, determine what customers are or aren’t looking at, and then correlate that data with the items they purchased.

Want to discuss retail RTLS options?

We’d love to connect with you about reverse-beaconing in retail and how it could suit your data collection needs. Drop us a line below.

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Written by Brian Ray

Brian is the Founder and CTO of Link Labs. As the chief technical innovator and leader of the company, Brian has led the creation and deployment of a new type of ultra long-range, low-power wireless networking which is transforming the Internet of Things and M2M space.

Before starting Link Labs, Brian led a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that solved communications and geolocation problems for the national intelligence community. He was also the VP of Engineering at the network security company, Lookingglass, and served for eight years as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Master’s Degree from Oxford University.

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