Getting started with beacons

What is a beacon?

A beacon is a small, inconspicuous hardware device that periodically sends out a signal via Bluetooth, basically saying "here I am" to devices that enter its operating range and that are listening for the signal.  Beacons transmit their signal via the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol, which allows for much lower power consumption than traditional Bluetooth because devices can be connected without needing to send a continuous stream of data.

The device that hears the beacon's signal doesn't connect to the beacon; it simply records the contact.  The beacon interaction essentially works in the same way as WiFi on your smartphone, which registers a WiFi network when it comes into range. The beacon-detection capability allows for some interesting interactions with consumers.


Deploying beacons

You typically use beacons to identify when customers are near specific areas of a location: the front door, the checkout, in a specific department, or near a specific product.  When a mobile device picks up a beacon signal you can interact with that device as it enters the beacon’s range, after it has remained in range for a given period, or when it leaves range. 

When a beacon is placed at the front door of your retail location and the customer's device picks up the signal, you might send them a push notification welcoming them back to the store.  Or instead of simply welcoming them, you might have them click through to your mobile app for offers or promotions.  The simple example might look like this: 

(Note: Data connectivity, whether from the cellular network or WiFi, must be present for content to be delivered.)


Getting started with beacons

When using beacons to interact with customers, there are a few key requirements.

1) The beacons

You will need to select a beacon provider: popular vendors include Radius Networks, Blue Cats, and Kontakt. These vendors can help you select the right type of beacon for your specific needs, considering battery life, power availability and conservation, placement considerations, and beacon configuration.

2) A mobile device with your mobile app

You need to deploy your mobile app onto your consumers’ devices. That mobile app will need to retrieve and send the beacon data to a back-end system that will initiate the communication with the consumer. If you have a mobile app already, you’ll need to embed an SDK into that application to allow for these interactions.

3) A back-end CRM or personalization platform

The back-end platform determines when and how to interact with a customer, and then initiates that interaction. In our example, the mobile device recognizes the beacon signal and that data is transferred to the platform. The platform initiates a push notification to the customer that, when clicked, takes them into the mobile app and presents the content configured in the platform.


For more on the whys and wheres of beacons in retail, check out these articles