Beacons - What Consumers Want

Beacons – we’re starting to hear more and more about them, especially for those in marketing, retail and payments. What are they? Beacons are simple, affordable devices that retailers and/or business owners can place within their respective stores, which enable wireless communication with customer smart devices. Using Bluetooth (BLE) technology, Beacons can detect visitors as they enter a retailer, for example, and immediately communicate with them. Communications can range from promotional offers, discounts and coupons to loyalty program updates to personalized shopping or requests for sales assistance. Beacons can also ‘track’ information and collect data on a customer’s activities as they move through the store, helping retailers deliver a more personalized and relevant experience in the future.

Like much of the mobile technology making its way into the shopping experience today, I feel that Beacons definitely offer value. I mean, it would be great to walk into a store locally and receive a notification on my smartphone with an exclusive discount or offer. What value, especially if it’s for a specific product or service that I’m interested in buying. Personally, relevance is key, especially considering that the vast majority of the advertising messages I receive on a daily basis (some 5,000 per day) are completely irrelevant and uninteresting to me. In this way, Beacons are appealing to me as a customer.

On the other hand there’s the data collection. Even with the understanding that data equals knowledge equals relevance (something I value), there’s an element of information collection about me and my shopping habits that feels creepy. Will these all be permission based or will some businesses simply be able to track my personal habits because I have BLE enabled on my smartphone?

And, there’s the security, and privacy. BLE, while widely used in a variety of today’s smart devices from iPhone to Android, is still unconfirmed as a secure medium to consumers. In fact, a recent article on, 51 percent of respondents surveyed noted that privacy was their number one concern around mobile, in-store location tracking. And, other concerns focused around the quantity of messages received along with relevance. On the other hand, the same survey from PunchTab, revealed that 88 percent of those surveyed would consider coupons or special offers as acceptable uses for mobile, in-store tracking, followed by a shortened check-out time (72 percent), alerts around sales on products the customer is interested in (69 percent), and status updates on a loyalty or points program (58 percent).

In the end, early adopters of Beacons, or mobile, in-store location tracking, will be those consumers that value offers and discount potential over privacy. Of course, if the experience doesn’t live up to expectations, retails should expect a quick exit, even from their ‘loyalists’. In order for Beacons to gain traction quickly, the businesses using them will need to remain focused on relevance and impact. If not, Beacons will become just another advertising medium, delivering irrelevant and non-impactful messages to customers who really aren’t interested.