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5 Things Beacons Can Do, Besides Pushing Coupons

With the abundance of case studies advocating for the use of beacons to deliver promotions and coupons to people's mobile devices, it is not hard to overlook other approaches that are likely to provide more value to both businesses and consumers.

Here are some examples of how beacons are or could be being used today:

1. Table Service

It is a common sight at airports and other large transportation hubs: tablets attached to tables throughout waiting areas, ready for customers to order and pay for meals and other items that are later delivered to them. Large restaurant chains such as Applebee's and Chili's have also outfitted

some of their locations with devices that are operated by customers in a similar fashion, allowing them to make their selections and pay for their bill without having to wait for staff to become available, which in turn increases the number of customers that can be served during any given period of time.

This level of investment might not be possible for smaller chains or independently operated eateries. But what if instead of tablets, they installed inexpensive beacons at every table and took advantage of the mobile devices customers already bring with them. Not only would the upfront and maintenance costs be significantly lower (imagine cleaning ketchup off of those iPads. Ugh), but there would be more space at the table for food!

2. Pathfinding

Time is of the essence when trying to catch a plane. That's why a number of airlines and airports have been experimenting with the placement of beacons at security lines, gates, and other places throughout their facilities, in an effort to minimize the number of passengers at risk of missing their flights. While in extreme circumstances they might need to dispatch an airline employee to get them through security faster, information such as the time it would take a passenger to get to their gate from her current location could be the difference between her shopping or dining where she is, or settling for something closer to her gate. 

You know where time is of the essence as well? At the supermarket. Last year, Epicurious, Condé Nast’s prime destination for recipes, piloted a program that allowed marketers to deliver tips, meal ideas and related content to shoppers within range of beacons inside retail venues. But what if your shopping list was automatically transformed into the most efficient route through the supermarket aisles, just as you walked in? Or if Home Depot turned your next DIY project into a customized itinerary for your next visit to the store?

3. Localization

Signs are becoming smarter every day. In NYC, subway riders are able to find out about the status of their lines before they get underground, thanks to digital signage installed at the entrances of a growing number of stations. This is great, but limited: The information provided is just for the lines servicing that particular station, and only in English. If these signs were outfitted with beacons, tourists could read messages in their own languages, and all customers could get information relevant to their trips from the whole system.

It is easy to imagine how this level of interactivity could enhance the customer experience at other travel related destinations such as airports, museums, zoos, and historical landmarks, but it could also simplify certain day-to-day activities at places where interpreters at frequently used such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and conference centers.

4. Venue Analytics

There is a growing number of previously online-only operations that are bringing their experience in A/B testing, web analytics, and optimization to physical environments. When opening their first store in NYC, Birchbox designed the layout of the space and organized their merchandise in a way that feels like navigating an e-commerce website. For example, all the nail polishes of similar colors are displayed together (think of a web page displaying search results), as opposed to grouped by brand. The result is an improved shopping experience and deeper ties between the retailer and customer, not to mention more sales.

But what about measuring the native behavior of shoppers in-store? Carrefour, a multinational retail chain operator, attached beacons to shopping carts and throughout the ceilings at three of their stores in Madrid. The data collected from the interaction between the moving beacons and the fixed ones could be analyzed and used to identify opportunities to improve the overall flow on the floor by customizing the product selection for each store, optimizing product placement, highlighting and pairing relevant items, provide access to off-site inventory, as well as enabling easy access to feedback from peers for a more social retail experience across channels.

5. Logistics

Beacons can also be useful for improving business processes that are not necessarily customer facing. In the last year, Japan Airlines equipped its staff with smart watches, allowing the company to locate crew members and other employees throughout Tokyo’s Haneda airport, deliver flight status and other relevant information, and assign specific tasks to individuals. Similarly, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has been running a pilot in 30 of its properties helping concierges greet arriving guests by name, speed up the check-in process for VIPs, and let housekeeping staff know when guests are still in the room. Additionally, Starwood guests staying at ten of their Aloft, W, and Element hotels were able to skip the check-in process altogether, as part of the company’s keyless check-in pilot. Participating customers could go straight to their rooms and open their doors by simply tapping or gesturing with their device, thanks to a new feature included in Starwood’s SPG mobile app that takes just a about a minute to setup. While some aspects of this solution are visible to the customer, the value to the business comes in the form of streamlining routinary tasks and making the most efficient use of the staff’s time. Imagine extending this level of automation beyond check-in to other aspects of a hotel stay like valet parking and room service.