Making the Most of Beacons

12/03/2015 by Rupert Potter, Operations Director

How to get the most from Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and apps (location tracking and content delivery)

Since Apple introduced iPhone support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, their use has started to take off. But there is still confusion about what they do and how they can best be used. This is the first in a series of blogs on beacons which, when taken together, will form a handy guide on getting the most from them.

The current generation of beacons are just that – they only transmit data. A second generation of beacons is coming which can receive data too.
As beacons can only transmit, a useful system incorporating them needs something to receive, and act on, the data. This is typically an app on a smartphone. A crucial insight for anyone considering using beacons is to make sure that the app will be sufficiently useful for people to download, and use, it. Many beacon installations are set to fail not because the technology doesn’t work, but because the use-case is just not compelling enough for the consumer.

There are two main ways in which beacons are used: to track location; and to start a conversation or interaction with a consumer.
A smartphone can measure the signals of several beacons close to it and deduce its precise location. This could be used for example, to see where a consumer stops in a supermarket or which route they take through a shopping centre. These type of applications generate invaluable data (but only if the app is sufficiently useful for consumers to use it in reasonable numbers).
The phone can also receive data from a beacon and use that to present information to the consumer. For example presenting information about an exhibit in a museum. And if the information sent to the app includes a web page, that information can be updated without having to change the data stored on the beacon.

Used together these two methods of using beacons allow retailers both to learn about their customers’ behaviour and to send them offers based on their actual behaviour. Consumers are unlikely to see much benefit in the former but will certainly see direct value in the latter. So I repeat for the final time, in order to use an app and beacons to generate valuable data, the app must provide something valuable to the consumer in return.

Rupert Potter is COO of Paythru and author of “mcommerce: the converging offline and online worlds”.