If you’ve been keeping abreast with the latest developments in retail technology then you’ve likely heard of beacons—those nifty devices that enable retailers to send customized notifications to shoppers while they’re inside a store.
Powered by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), beacons can communicate with other BLE-enabled gadgets, including smartphones and smartwatches. They also have the ability to recognize devices based on their location and previous interactions, enabling them to send relevant and location-specific messages to different devices.
Needless to say, beacons are a big deal, especially in offline retail. They give brick-and-mortar stores data and personalization capabilities that were previously only available to online pure plays. They are also expected to directly influence over $4 billion worth of US retail sales in 2015, making beacon tech one of the most promising innovations to hit the industry.
That said, while retailers should certainly consider installing beacons in their stores, they shouldn’t implement the technology without thinking about the issues they can run into. Beacons can do wonders for offline retailers, but if the technology isn’t carried out correctly, it can do more harm than good.
The following paragraphs will talk about the common pitfalls that retailers fall into when rolling out beacon technology. Check them out below and make it a point to avoid them when you’re implementing your beacon strategy:
Mistake #1: Rolling out beacons without thorough planning and testing
With beacons being so new and promising, it can be tempting to forge ahead with the technology and implement it straight away. Don’t fall into this trap. Resist your “beacon happy” urges and take the time to plan and test how you’re going to deploy them in your stores.
Rather than rolling out the technology across your entire retail operation, opt to do it at one or two stores to start. Doing so will not only allow you to find (and crush) initial bugs and problems, but your tests will also surface initial shopper feedback that you can use to refine your efforts.
For instance, you may learn that customers get annoyed after they receive a certain number of offers or get targeted in a certain way. It’s best to pick up such lessons while testing the technology in one store, rather than finding them out after you’ve already deployed the campaigns in all your locations.
To help you make the most out of the testing phase, you may want to take a lean and agile approach in your trials. As Beacon Week founder Stefan Wolpers said in an interview with Vend, it’s best to “pick an average store as ‘your’ user testing lab and learn on the go.”
“It’s okay to start picking the low hanging fruits in the beginning (e.g. coupons), but try to figure out what your customers are really interested in,” he adds. “Iterate often: test new ideas while killing features that no customer is interested in.”
Mistake #2: Not training your staff properly
The success of beacons in your store doesn’t just rely on the gadgets themselves, but also on your staff, so see to it that all your associates are familiar with how the app works, not just from a retailer’s perspective, but also from the customer’s side.
Consider the experience of Retail Category Consultants (RCC), when they decided to see how beacon technology worked in two department store locations in Toronto. The RCC team blogged about their experience, and noted that one of the issues they encountered was insufficient staff knowledge.
“After asking a number of associates for help with the app, only one manager was able to answer our questions,” they wrote. That’s why RCC recommends that retailers invest more in beacon training. “Since beacons are new technology, retailers looking to deploy it in their stores must train all sales associates to understand how to use the app and how to address customer questions and concerns.”
Do note that your staff’s training shouldn’t end with the basic and technical details of beacon technology. You should also teach them how to make the most out it. Don’t just teach employees how beacons work, also train them how to interpret data, so they can glean insights and take action.
For example, most beacon solutions can notify your staff when an existing customer walks into the store. In this case, your associates should know how to pull up that shopper’s purchase history so they can approach them in a relevant way.
They should also be aware of the beacon messages that each shopper receives. For instance, if your in-store beacons already alerted the customer about a sale, then your staff probably shouldn’t mention the same thing, as they can come off as being too repetitive or pushy.
Mistake #3: Using beacons solely for sales purposes (and overlooking the other uses/applications of the technology)
The ability of beacons to send highly personalized offers is indeed powerful, but don’t forget that it’s not the only purpose of the technology. The uses of beacons can go beyond the realm of sales. You can also leverage the technology to engage shoppers and provide better customer service.
Consider the following:
1. Customer service
Rather than just using beacons to push offers, why not use them to serve customers better? That’s what Tesco did when it piloted the technology in its stores last year. The UK-based retailer leveraged beacons to provide a better click-and-collect experience for shoppers. They used beacons to notify customers when their orders are ready, so shoppers can make better use of their wait time.
2. Store navigation
If you have a big store, you should look into using beacons for mapping purposes.
That’s what Major League Baseball is doing in some of its stadiums. In addition to sending notifications depending on where game watchers are in the area, MLB’s At the Ballpark app can also be used as a navigation tool that helps people find their seats using their phones.
3. Using beacons for fun and entertainment
Holding an event? Make it more interesting by incorporating beacons into the experience. At CES 2014, for example, the organizers decided to run a beacon-enabled scavenger hunt that encouraged attendees to explore the conference.
Users had to download the official event app, and they used it to locate beacons in the vicinity. The app would alert them when they were near (around 10 meters) a beacon device, and it would reward users with a badge every time they found one.
Mistake #4: Not integrating beacon technology with your other systems or solutions
Beacons work fine on their own, but they’ll work even better when you connect them with your other systems or solutions.
For example, linking your beacon solution to your POS can help you gather data more effectively. Take Swarm, a beacon-powered solution for brick-and-mortar stores. By itself, Swarm can be used to gather foot traffic data and analytics; but when linked to a store’s POS system, the retailer can tie in foot traffic with sales and get insights on their conversions, thus enabling them to get a more complete picture of their store’s performance.
What other mistakes do retailers commit when implementing beacons? Share your thoughts in the comments.