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Will BLE Beacons "Crack The Code" on In-Store Customer Interactions?

While the app-rich smartphone has permeated virtually every activity of our daily life — "there’s an app for that" — retailers struggle to create mobile relevance and impact on the in-store experience. This is a missing element for delivering a seamless experience and capturing customers that spend more, are more profitable, and more loyal. Enter Bluetooth Low Energy, aka BLE beacons — technology to (finally) enable real-time, geo-location targeted, personalized interactions in store.  

About 75% of the US population carries Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. Bluetooth is also now embedded in consumers’ day-to-day activities through wireless speakers, headsets, and headphones. Bluetooth is built in to most new cars. How about fitness — my FitBit activity tracker, scale, and computer all use Bluetooth technology to keep me healthy.   

Consumers also appear to be open to using BLE in store. A recent Forrester Study found that about 40-50% of consumers under age 50 are comfortable sharing location in store in exchange for “product offers and/or discounts.”

As a technology, BLE is relatively cheap, has standards in place, and requires little operating energy (no cabling required). 

With so many of the right ingredients in place, a number of retailers are active with BLE pilots today. Walgreens announced one in May that helps customers track and use coupons while in/near a store.  These type of BLE solutions are based on the interaction between:

  • A BLE beacon placed at a specific location (the potato chip endcap for store 207);
  • A consumer’s smartphone when bluetooth receiver is on and nearby the beacon (Paul is now near the potato chip endcap in store 207);
  • And, a retailer’s app (the brains and the channel for the interaction)

The value of BLE lies in its ability to communicate the proximity of a mobile device to a receiver — that Paul is standing near the end cap for potato chips at 3:15pm on Saturday in Store 207.

Below are three ways marketers can use BLE-enabled customer communications to target and personalize in-store interactions driving conversion, increasing market baskets, and increasing loyalty.

  1. Your product is on special! Let customers know about promoted products they buy regularly. For example, a shopper is told there is a special on a new gluten-free cookie when they enter the gluten-free aisle and have a past purchase history of buying gluten-free products.
  2. Your reward is ready! Provide loyal customers with personalized, real-time reward offers relating to an area of the store where they are shopping. For example, when someone enters the consumer electronics area, they’re offered an instant 20% savings off their highest-priced item from that section today.
  3. We have a special offer for you! Provide offers to drive cross-sales activity in complementary areas. For example, for a consumer shopping in the babycare aisle, send an offer of 10% off today on any in-stock baby strollers.

These are opportunities to both drive increased marketing precision, and test and learn what communications and offers are most effective (agile marketing).

Importantly, analytics of BLE-tracked in-store shopper behavior make it possible to improve operating efficiencies by refining labor models, product assortments, layouts, and fixtures.

Beyond BLE, other sensing technologies such as Wi-Fi and video are advancing capabilities rapidly. Retailers harnessing combined sensor inputs with Connected CRM capabilities will "crack the code" and create tremendous impact. For now, retailers are learning to use BLE to make retail more mobile, more personal, and more effective. 

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