THE BLOG

The iBeacon Opportunity - Are You Ready for Personalised In-store Mobile Messaging?

26/02/2014 13:20 GMT | Updated 27/04/2014 10:59 BST

Smartphones are taking over the world. There are now more iPhones sold than babies born every day*. This is a pretty staggering statistic. There are more than a billion smartphones used globally and age is no barrier -- teens, adults and seniors are all well represented among their users. It's the device that we wake up with, go to sleep with and never leave home without. Alongside our keys and wallet it's the most important thing we carry around with us.

As mobile consumers, we must all be noticing the increasing amounts of in-app push notifications that we're receiving lately. Whether coming from your news app, your social media app or your shopping app, these messages that pop-up over our lock screen are impossible to ignore. And we'll all recognise that we're starting to become increasingly familiar and comfortable engaging with brands, businesses and retailers through our personal smart devices.

Yes, the world of retail is getting a mobile makeover. By using new mobile features when we shop we're able to enhance the shopping experience bringing bricks and mortar stores up to date. But how would you feel about receiving a personalised message on your smartphone when you step into a shop on the high street? How delighted would you be to see a push notification greeting you - 'Hi, James; or welcoming you back - 'Great to see you back in store,' and offering you a special discount based on your previous purchase history - 'Because we know you love our jeans, here's 50% off your next pair if you buy in store today'?

This is the question on many retailers' lips at the moment, as they become increasingly excited by the opportunities on offer when combining Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology with in-app push notification messaging - an emerging direct messaging channel more intimate and immediate even than SMS.

Around three quarters of the UK adult population now owns a smartphone - a greater penetration than any other digital device - with most of us having an average of around 30 apps on our device at any one time - and there will be at least a couple that we feel we can't live without. I know I can't live without my TfL, MapMyRun or Whatsaap app. In fact, we spend much more time in apps than we do surfing the mobile web nowadays.

We are also using our smartphones and tablet devices more to research and purchase goods and service. The mobile channel is having a fundamental impact on our shopping behaviour. Whether we access a retailer's mobile website or download their app, we are increasingly engaging in mCommerce behaviour (both at home and in-store), as retailers are becoming all too well aware.

So BLE Beacons (especially Apple's iBeacons) are becoming extremely important to retailers and are all the buzz in mobile marketing circles at the moment. The potential being that they offer marketers that holy grail of delivering the right message, to the right person, in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

There are expectations that by installing BLE beacons throughout an indoor environment (think retail store / mall, sports venue, concert hall) they'll help trigger customer greeting messages, deliver pinpoint accurate promotional messages, further drive loyalty programmes and offer contactless payments (in the case of the PayPal beacons). It's something that retailers in the US, such as Macy's and American Eagle Outfitters, have already started trialing in association with the Shopkick app.

But to have any likelihood of gaining traction, and ultimately have an impact, this highly targeted (or 'hyper-targeted') marketing communication opportunity will need to be acceptable to consumers. It will require us to opt-in. And by opt-in I don't mean simply putting a tick in a box. It will require us to download an app; to allow the app to find our location and then to allow the app to send push notifications. I think I'd want to feel a strong sense of a real value exchange taking place to take these actions initially.

Then once we start receiving these personal messages how will we feel about them? If they offer us something truly relevant, appropriate and valuable then they might be acceptable, but if they don't they could quickly become the most annoying form of spam. Especially if they end up in every store we walk into.

So as this new mobile marketing opportunity emerges in 2014, and we take one step closer to making the Minority Report's Gap store vision a reality, I think it is going to require marketers to offer true value exchange and very carefully manage their targeted messaging strategy if they hope to see a positive return.