One Benefit of Beacons That Retailers Often Overlook

8 min.

Business media is paying plenty of attention to Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) beacons in retail, especially in terms of their potential for marketing and customer experience enhancement. While you’ll find no shortage of online discussion about these advantages, beacons offer other possibilities that receive far less exposure, despite the value they can present to a retail enterprise.

In this article, you’ll discover one of these less explored retail advantages of beacon technology—its use as a data source to serve business intelligence systems.

The Growing Popularity of Beacons in Proximity Marketing

If you’re already familiar with beacon technology for retail marketing, you’ll know that beacons are sensors that you can integrate with mobile applications and backend systems to enable the sharing of location data.

One of the primary use cases for beacons in retail is to trigger push notifications and messages to consumers’ mobile devices, either to personalize their customer experience or to encourage specific actions. The use of beacons for this purpose is known as proximity marketing.

Proximity technology popularity

Data source: Unacast. The Proximity.Directory Report State Of The Proximity Industry Q1 2017

Although BLE is not the only proximity solution available in retail software development, it is the most popular according to Unacast, the world’s largest beacon-driven data platform. Despite that popularity though, its full range of uses, including a role in business intelligence, is still not well-publicized and might easily be overlooked by retailers.

Beacon Technology in Retail Business Intelligence

As a bridge between mobile devices, applications, and systems, the diminutive beacon can play a pivotal role in data collection, not only for marketing purposes, but also to drive strategic and tactical decisions in other areas, like resource and process management.

Though the practice doesn’t yet appear to get a buzzword of its own, using beacon networks to improve data granularity does bring new meaning to the term “business intelligence” for retailers. Other data-collection alternatives exist, but none of them currently offers a comparable mix of detail and location awareness.

That said, some location technology experts, including workforce-management solution provider, suggest that a more optimal solution for data collection and the tracking of people and assets is to combine BLE beacons with other location technologies, such as Wi-Fi-enabled tracking.

Enhancing Retail Analytics with Beacon Integration

Whether you decide to integrate multiple location technologies or opt for beacons alone to capture data for retail analytics, your first priority should be to understand what is possible. For instance, the types of data that can be gathered using beacons include:

  • Areas of your stores that receive the most and least foot traffic;
  • Employee movements on the sales floor and in the stock rooms;
  • Levels of shopper engagement with various categories/items of merchandise;
  • Details about first-time and repeat customers;
  • Resource utilization in store and in the supply chain.

When you add such extra details to your company’s existing data pool, retail analytics can make your operations more transparent. As for the beacons themselves, while they work in concert with your CRM and/or analytics platform to collect data, you can also use them for their better-known applications in customer experience and marketing.

How to Use Beacon Data

Rarely does a single technology open doors to such a diverse spectrum of opportunities, which may explain why Business Insider forecasts that this year will see 3.5 million BLE beacons connecting retailers to real-time data.

Of course, the real burning question is “what can be done with all that data?”

To answer that question, a search around the Internet will throw up plenty of examples of how retailers are already leveraging data obtained from beacons and similar location technologies. If you need a quick sample of the opportunities that beacons offer in retail, you can certainly consider any of the following:

  • Analyzing in-store footfall data to seek layout and design improvements;
  • Generating heat maps to evaluate merchandising effectiveness;
  • Gaining an understanding of customer wait-times at checkouts and other touchpoints;
  • Developing profiles of shopper behavior for use in segmentation and marketing strategy;
  • Building a picture of employee movementsto improve process efficiencies.

The value of these applications is not limited to retail store interiors. For example, with beacons installed at the store or shopping mall entrance, you can capture and analyze data about passers-by. This would be most useful as an aid to marketing strategy, as you could use information about the passing foot traffic to target particular demographic groups with beacon-triggered push notifications.

Analytical tasks like this will become easier as beacon technology improves, unshackling solutions from their dependence on custom-built apps and shoppers’ willingness to download them.

App Dependence: A Diminishing Beacon Constraint

Until recently, the interdependency between beacons and custom mobile apps (as shown in the image below) has been something of a limitation, but the arrival of Google’s Eddystone protocol began to break down this constraint by enabling communication between beacons and devices through the Chrome browser.

Other beacon manufacturers are tackling the same problem by collaborating with widely used apps. Both approaches combat the custom app download requirement, enabling data capture from a broader cross-section of the shopping public.

It is still the early days for BLE beacons, but despite current imperfections, retailers adopting the technology are achieving a greater insight into their store operations. For example, 71% of respondents to a 2015 Retail Touchpoints survey said beacons enabled them to understand shoppers’ purchasing and browsing behavior.

Embrace the Wider Possibilities of Beacons in Retail

If you’ve been considering beacons only as a means to push out coupons, promotional messages, or other information to shoppers, it may be worth pausing to think about more ways in which these tiny sensors can benefit your business.

By integrating beacons with CRM, POS, ERP, and analytical solutions, and diversifying your use of them, you increase your chances of a healthy return on investment.

Whether such claims are exaggerated or right on the money, the following can be said for sure. As data increasingly drives retail strategy, and personalization strengthens as a requisite for customer loyalty, BLE technology is uniquely capable of helping your company meet challenges in business intelligence, as well as in marketing and customer service improvement.