Beacon technology: What you really wanna know

Technology can move pretty quickly – if you don't stop and examine the changes every now and then, it might be hard to keep up. With that said, some of the most exciting, prevalent developments in the tech world aren't just the ones Apple and Google spearhead. Instead, there are lesser-known but just as important developments happening right under your nose.

Beacon technology is one of those developments. The technology has the potential to make consumers reevaluate the way they organize their shopping trips or view relevant event information, and allow retailers and event directors to revamp how they advertise and cater to customers. Let's answer some essential questions about beacon technology to make sure you're completely in the loop.

1. So, what exactly is a beacon?
When you think of a beacon, you might first imagine a shining light or a landmark that can be seen from a distance. And in a way, that's the idea behind beacon technology at the retail level – a notification from a company aimed at providing relevant, enticing information for consumers within range. Technically speaking, beacons are digital data sent through proximity-based Bluetooth platforms to nearby smartphone apps in the form of push notifications.

What you wanna know: Beacons are locally based notifications designed to deliver relevant, contextual information to consumers.

2. Will beacon spam clog my phone?
Beacons don't work in the same way as listserv email campaigns, cold calls or mass texts. There are a few key differences that separate beacons from spam:

  • Customers can opt in and out of beacons, giving them freedom over which notifications they receive and from whom.
  • Beacons contain information that consumers can act upon immediately – sales, special events, sign-up discounts and similar items.
  • Only those customers within range of the beacon will receive an alert. That means you'll get a message if you're in the area – in other words, in position to actually pay a visit to that retailer.

What you wanna know: Beacons aren't spam email, they won't clog your phone, and they'll provide you with actionable, detailed alerts.

Don't let your customers walk right past your great new sale.
Don't let your customers walk right past your great new sale.

3. Give me an example of how a beacon might influence my day-to-day life.
We'll give you several. First, consider you're out shopping and have a list of a few items you need – maybe it's an update to your spring wardrobe. You head to the mall and take stock of your favorite stores. Some combination of these will have what you need. While you walk, your phone buzzes with a new notification: One of your standby retailers is having a sale, 20 percent off select store items. Then, when you head inside, another notification pops up: Show your beacon alert at checkout and take an additional 5 percent off any item. Suddenly your wardrobe is significantly less expensive.

Now imagine you're at  an event – it can be anything, but let's say it's a professional basketball game. It's a big game and the lines are long. You don't want to miss the action, but you do want a snack – luckily, as you wait in line, beacon technology can send in-game updates directly to your phone so you can stay up on the action while you wait.

"Beacons can be used in a range of settings."

Or, perhaps you're a student, new to campus. Beacons can let you know about updates to class assignments, help you find your way to class, tell you about campus-wide events and activities, and plenty more. This way, any of these organizations – and many others – can leverage beacons to keep their clients in the know.

What you wanna know: Beacons can be used in a range of settings – from retail to education to sporting to health care and anything in between – to offer insight for interested people.

4. Will beacons drive revenue to my company?
Ah yes, the most salient of business questions: "How does this affect my bottom line?" Think of it like this: In logistics, last-mile shipping is sometimes the hardest thing to arrange, but often the most important. In advertising, it's one thing to build brand awareness, but another thing entirely to move customers into the store. Beacons do both – generate buzz about your company and also motivate those in the area to stop in and have a look around.

What you wanna know: Beacons will bring in more foot traffic, offer valuable retail information, and have the potential to significantly increase sales.

Now we'll tell you something else you should know: Implementing beacon technology is pretty easy. By working with industry experts with experience in any application, your company, event, school or – well, whatever – can reach the right people in a subtle, non-intrusive way. Like we said, not every tech trend is in your face, nor should it be. We happen to believe some of the most effective technology happens behind the scenes and beacons are no exception.

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