According to a recent study by Run Analytics, mobile devices will not only surpass the desktop computer in usage in 2014, but will also win out in terms of sales conversions. At first glance, this might sound like a nightmare scenario for brick-and-mortar retailers who, since the birth of the smartphone, have been plagued by shoppers using their stores as a showroom for their online competition. Some emerging technology might just change all of that.
Hidden away in those very same smartphones are some exciting possibilities. Simple devices placed in a store can now provide a customer with in-store navigation, track that customer’s physical movements in the store, open up the possibilities of dynamic pricing, and allow the customer a hands-free checkout. They can also recognize a returning shopper, make a purchasing suggestion, and provide navigation to that specific product, all through that very same smartphone.
The driving force behind this technology is an innovation developed by Apple called iBeacon. Currently incorporated into all iOS 7 devices, iBeacon technology is even finding its way into Android devices. It uses a new, low-power version of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy (or BLE) which doesn’t put a big drain on a mobile device’s battery. It also costs very little. A stand-alone iBeacon that can be placed anywhere in a store runs under $100.
The possibilities offered by this new technology are seemingly endless. By tracking shoppers’ movements, store owners will be able to recognize problems in the store’s physical layout and make adjustments, making for a better experience for their customers. Social media could be integrated into the physical shopping experience, where shoppers are offered incentives to share sales and product information with their friends. Most importantly, the data collected from customers’ mobile devices will offer a level of analytics that retailers never had access to before, which can go a long way to even the playing field with online competition.
For the customer, apps are being developed that use iBeacon to make shopping more interactive and enjoyable, some of which can welcome a shopper to the store and send location alerts for specific deals. It also brings many of the features of online shopping to a physical store. If a shopper “likes” a product online, he or she can be reminded of it when entering a store or a department within a store that has it. And it does all this without having to open the app.
The iBeacon technology also offers the capability of hands-free checkout. This year, Paypal launched Beacon, which allows customers to pay for their purchases using Paypal by doing little more than walking out of the store. The service connects a special device placed in a store with a Beacon app and not only handles the payment, but can also recognize and greet the shopper.
The very same technology that was once a bane to brick-and-mortar retailers is now opening up some very exciting possibilities for the future of physical retail. Shopkeepers take note: Mobile is taking over, and with a modest investment, you can now use it to your advantage.