Beacons, beacons, everywhere! Nearly every place you turn people are speaking about iBeacons, connected beacons, or mesh beacons; they’re all the rage in retail today! Great, you might say, but what are they? Why should I care? How will it affect me? What good are they to me?

A beacon is simply a radio that complies with the new BlueTooth Low Energy (BLE) radio standard. BLE enables a new class of devices that broadcast a relatively weak signal, requiring a receiver to be close to it to receive its signal. The absolute genius in this is that nearly all smartphones are equipped with BlueTooth radios, providing instant access to billions of consumers worldwide.

iBeacons are simply Apple’s implementation of this standard. However, there are many beacon manufacturers, and many different types of beacons. But we’ll leave these differences aside for the moment to discuss some beacon basics that answer the questions asked above.

A beacon transmits a unique ID that identifies the beacon. This unique ID must first be loaded into the user’s device for the user to be notified of their proximity to that particular beacon. Beacon IDs are loaded into consumer devices via a coupon or loyalty pass distributed by a merchant. Merchants can distribute these passes by advertising, email, SMS messages, or by displays in the store.

Let’s see how a user might interact with a beacon. As the user approaches the location of the beacon, this could be at the front entrance to a store, a sales rack within the store, or at the cash register, the user’s device detects the beacon and it posts a notification on the user’s display. The notification could say “Welcome”, or “These sweaters on sale today!”, or “Save 10% on your total order today!” The user can then get additional information by selecting the notification message on their device, receiving information about redeeming the coupon, or providing a link to the merchant’s web page for additional offers.

So, you might ask, how close does the user need to be to receive this notification? Well, a beacon’s effective range (power level) and its transmission interval are programmable. The power level determines the detectable range from the beacon to receive the notification, and the transmission interval is how often the beacon sends out its ID. Think of a beacon as a person giving a product pitch at a kiosk or perhaps a food sample stand. You need to be close enough to them to hear and understand what they are saying. If you want people to hear them from a greater distance, they can speak louder or use a loudspeaker. Also, if people are walking by quickly, you’ll want the person to use a quick catchphrase, repeated often, to catch people’s attention as they move into and out of range of the speaker. So, use higher power for greater range and shorter intervals to catch faster moving traffic.

This pretty much sums up the basics of beacons. We are only beginning to explore how they can and will be used, and that is why we are hearing so much about them today. Now that you know, how would you use beacons to connect with your customers?

Please give us a call to explore how we can make that happen for you!