Bluetooth Beacons Have Us Surrounded

Some years back Apple introduced a two-way radio called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to its Smartphones. More accurate than GPS, particularly indoors, Bluetooth is a game changer in many sectors, most immediately in retail stores. With what does it communicate? That's where Bluetooth beacons, and more recently stickers come into play. But before we go any further let's use another game changing communications tool to set the stage.

The video demonstrates how beacon technology has already begun to change our interactions with bricks and mortar environments. So let's get clear on what moving parts make possible what we just saw. First you need a device with Bluetooth aboard AND turned on. Then you need to install an app friendly to the specific beacon environment you've entered. Finally, to get the full effect, you need to give the app permission to track your location. Some information will be available if you do not but you aren't going to get size, price and availability on the garment you just picked up if the app doesn't know you're next to it. Like email today, this is permission push marketing. And like email, how much to push is a concern.

 Let's say this beacon is near a large flat screen television. There is good information available about the television but if the visitor starts moving again in three or four seconds have they shown enough interest to justify pinging their phone and delivering TV-related content?

When I saw some of the numbers attached to beacon uptake I wished I'd known enough two years ago to look at investment opportunities. This chart from sweetiq.com presents a ten-fold increase in the number of retailers using beacon technology - over just three years!

retail beacon uptake

Retailers are Jumping on Bluetooth beacon proximity marketing

Estimote stickersThe beacons we've seen so far are about the size of a hockey puck. But beacon maker Estimote also has a line of what they call "stickers". Stickers can turn things into "nearables" - smart objects fully detectable by your mobile device, one suggestion that stopped me in my tracks being - your dog. That's right. It's conceivable that a lost pet could tell its story to anyone with the right app on their phone. That beats the heck out of a chip under the skin in my book.  The Estimote website is well worth a few moments, as it tells a complete, well-illustrated story of both beacon formats, including pricing for developers interested in becoming familiar with and ultimately being able to build solutions around the hardware. And the market for what beacons and stickers can do is there.

  • 1 in 3 shoppers would rather find information using their smartphone than ask a store employee, and for electronics and appliances that number is closer to 1 in 2.
  • Over 40% of shoppers look for offers on their mobile devices while they’re in store
Beacon maker Estimote claims a global network of 45,000 developers, and growing. You probably aren't one of them. I know I'm not. But if you're itching to play with your own beacon (a 3-pack sells for USD$99) there is apparently an app-making tool for iOS that allows non-developers to create apps without a line of code. More about it here. There is more information available at bluetooth.com, including a list of devices currently Bluetooth-enabled. I was pleased to see my Sony Xperia on that list.   For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.
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