The First Brands Doing Cool Things with Beacons

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The technology for beacons has been lingering out there since the launch of iOS 7, but it’s only now that people are starting to notice. And people are noticing because brands are out there experimenting with the first big push into the Internet of Everything.

What are beacons? Beacons are little battery-powered devices smaller than a deck of cards that emit a Bluetooth 4.0 signal to devices in its immediate vicinity. For a big box retailer, that could mean a type of GPS that could help a shopper find an item on the other side of the store; for a fast food chain, it could be the new basis for loyalty rewards.

People are going to freak out (in both good and bad ways) as beacon technology begins to take root. Some might feel like their privacy was violated; others will find it to be a handy-dandy tool that makes life easier as brands learns to use beacons to surprise and delight the owners of mobile devices.

So it’s important to see how this first wave of beacon experimentation goes because first impressions of a new technology matter a lot in the long run.

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American Eagle — In partnership with the ShopKick app, American Eagle is using beacons to offer rewards points (via ShopKick) to anyone entering the store who also goes into the changing room to try something on. This beacon strategy, built on the idea that encouraging shoppers to try on the merchandise increases the chances they will buy something, is realized by the placement of two low-cost, low-energy beacons. The beacon at the front of the store sends a push notification via the partner app offering a reward for entering the space of the second beacon, which is in the back of the store near the changing rooms.

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Macy’s — A typical Macy’s store covers many times the square footage of smaller mall-based retailers. While American Eagle integrated beacons with two beacons per store, Macy’s is going at this at a much larger scale, with 4,000 beacons deployed in 786 stores nationwide. Like American Eagle, Macy’s will also partner with the ShopKick app to push location-based coupons to shoppers.

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Hillshire Brands — You can expect grocery retails chains to get on-board with beacons soon (as Tesco’s has in the UK), but leading the pack is individual brands, like these Hillshire Brand sausages, which increased buyer intent by 20 percent in their first beacon experiment, which they claimed hit 50 million consumers using a variety of beacon-enabled apps, including Epicurious.

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Marriott Hotels — The Marriott hotel chain has focused recently on building out its rewards program and competing in the digital space, launching the FlashPerks feature of its rewards program to compete with same-day impulse buying services like Hotel Tonight. LocalPerks, another addition to the Marriott Rewards program, is a beacon-based technology that sends out geo-targeted offers inside its hotel properties, and only to mobile phone users who have downloaded the Marriott Mobile app.

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Major League Baseball — The placement of beacons in Major League Baseball parks across the country earlier this year remains one of the largest beacon roll-outs on the planet, with ambitious goals of interacting with fans from the turnstile to the concession stand to help finding their seats to watching instant replay on your phone, provided you’ve downloaded MLB’s At The Ballpark app. Expect even more next season.

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National Geographic Museum — Beacon-supported museums make perfect sense: visitors get the convenience of self-guided tours on their own smartphones, while museums get metrics on which visitors spent how much time in front of which exhibits. When the National Geographic Museum in downtown DC enhanced its 125th Anniversary exhibition with beacons, it introduced the technology to visitors by offering their own iPhones loaded with the National Geographic app. It won’t be long before downloading a museum’s app before visiting will be the only way to do it.

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Odeon Cinemas — The UK-based cinema chain Odeon is using beacons to better leverage the pre-show portion of its customers’ experience, before the movie begins. For instance, movie-goers can scan posters of coming attractions and watch the trailer on their phones, or get directions to bathrooms or concession stands, or let you know about special prices or when your show is about to start. For location-based businesses like movie theaters, beacons hold crazy-high potential from improving the experiences of a captive audience.

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Air travel — And speaking of captive audience, none are more trapped than air travelers, which makes them great targets for locations-based beacon-targeted services, ads, and content. For instance, the Cincinnati Airport is using a beacon-based technology to better predict the wait times through security or customs. Other airports around the globe are implementing beacon-based registry systems to more efficiently keep track of passengers in case of disasters. Air France is experimenting with beacon-based boarding services, and Virgin Atlantic has synced its beacon services with Apple’s Passbook app, while also offering premium customers special perks like 0% commission at the currency exchange.

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Titan — For all the good ideas, there are a few bad ones. One bad idea is Titan, a display advertising company, deploying 500 beacons at pay phones on the streets of New York City without the proper permits or informing the public. These weren’t in a retail store, and there’s no indication what sort of information Titan collected or pushed to pedestrians, but there’s a reason why most of the examples above include a partner app that users have already downloaded. The act of downloading a shopping app implies consent to connect in a beacon-enabled world; without that consent, your brand could be playing with fire.