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What are beacons?

If you have purchased a smartphone within the past couple of years, you're likely already in possession of a device that works with beacons. What are those? They're a fairly simple piece of technology that allows companies to communicate wirelessly with mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets (1). Using low-energy Bluetooth connections, beacons can either send to or collect information from these devices, which is one reason that retail organizations and marketers in particular are excited about the prospects of the technology.

Why beacons are so appealing to marketers

Because so many consumers are smartphone or cellphone owners, beacons present an excellent opportunity to connect and engage with them whenever they're within range of the beacon technology. Marketers can track the movements of customers within a retail spot, measure how long they stay in a store and send targeted messages based on location (2). In other words, beacons are very similar to the website tracking and analytics tools that companies use to monitor the pathways that consumers take to reach a purchasing decision on ecommerce sites.

This is one of the big reasons they have such an appeal for marketers. Companies can use the specific location of shoppers in stores - as the beacon picks up the Bluetooth signal from their smartphone - to deliver promotions and personalized messages. If a retailer has a branded mobile application, it's even easier to send push notifications to highlight specific discounts or sales.

How beacons connect offline and online worlds

Retailers with both a brick-and-mortar and ecommerce presence can use beacons to connect shoppers who are walking down physical aisles with digital storefronts. If consumers walk past a particular display, the retailer can send them to an online portal that may provide discounts or even cross-sell opportunities.

One of the leaders in this arena is the technology giant Apple. The company's iBeacons work with iPhones and iPads to connect consumers with retailers as they walk through a physical location, which is the same as any other beacon. One of the differences is the level of control shoppers have over how their mobile apps communicate with the beacons (3). Then, retailers can analyze in-store traffic based on how many people walk past their beacons. Similarly, marketers can monitor what kind of influence their push notifications have on ecommerce sales.

Beacons are typically seen as a resource for brick-and-mortar stores, but there are significant applications for ecommerce retailers as well.

1. "Beacons: What They Are, How They Work, And Why Apple's iBeacon Technology Is Ahead Of The Pack" 2. "Beacons are dead. Long live beacons" 3. "What you need to know about using Bluetooth beacons"

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