Proof that iBeacon has been deployed and created retail revolution can bee seen at the Macy’s store at Westfield Garden State Plaza, where white plastic discs, about the size of a computer mouse, have been attached to walls and columns around the store.
Those discs are beacons, and retailers and industry experts believe they have to power to change the way consumers shop, customers pay for merchandise and stores are staffed, and how employees interact with customers. But right now, retailers are taking baby steps with beacons.
Macy’s took the lead in publicly embracing beacons to generate rewards points for entering a store or making a purchase., announcing in September that it was installing 4,000 of the devices in its stores. In North Jersey, beacons have been in place at the Macy’s stores at Garden State Plaza, Paramus Park and Willowbrook Mall in Wayne since the end of last year. Retailers such as American Eagle, J.C. Penney and Best Buy also have been using them.
Facebook is testing a program that would let small stores take advantage of beacons by sending messages through the Facebook app on phones. It revealed in January that it was putting beacons in eight stores in Manhattan, including the landmark Strand bookstore.
How they work
- The retailer installs the small, battery-operated devices. They are made of plastic and contain a low-frequency chip that continuously sends Bluetooth low-energy signals out via radio waves into the store or a few feet around the entrance.
- Beacons typically are palm-sized circles, ovals or squares installed on walls, ceilings or shelves in stores. The devices themselves are inexpensive, ranging from $20 to $50, but they can cost as little as $5 if bought in bulk. They have a range of about 500 feet, and the signal can go through walls or other barriers.
- Beacons have been compared to lighthouses that constantly emit a signal of light, or barking dogs seeking attention. The beacon signal has been compared to a handshake with a smartphone, which opens the phone to receive information from the retailer or starts the conversation.
- The beacon’s signal connects with any smartphones in the area that are Bluetooth low-energy enabled, which currently is iOS 7 or later models, or other phones that have a particular app open and running. The beacon signals the phone to “wake up,” in effect, and connect with the Internet to pull down information about sales, special offers or product features.
They can be used to:
- Welcome shoppers as they enter a store. (“Hi, Joan. Welcome to Macy’s.” )
- Offer rewards for entering the store — points on a shopping rewards site or discounts for that particular store.
- Provide product information about an item the shopper is looking at.
- Access information about shoppers, such as whether they are frequent customers of the store, what they typically buy, what types of products they like on social media or what sports they follow. The beacon does this when it connects with their phones and reads their apps.
- Activate the retailer’s mobile payment system.
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