By ditching the headphone jack, Apple is turning its users onto the possibilities of Bluetooth- and the word of tracking beacons guiding shoppers round stores. David Philippson, Managing Director – Mobile Solutions, Criteo looks at how beacons will bridge the gap between ionline and offline retail.
The future of retail was asleep outside the Apple store on Regent Street last week.
Slumped in camping chairs, wrapped up in sleeping bags, a hardy few had braved the elements overnight to claim their prize. The aim of their urban camping trip: a brand new iPhone 7.
At first glance, it might seem incredible that people are still willing to do this after umpteen iPhone iterations and a whole 12 years after the first European Apple store opened. Why not just order it online?
But it served as a reminder that for all the growth of online commerce (and the growth is significant!), it represents only fraction of retail sales – around 9 out of 10 purchases are still made in store.
What’s interesting is that consumers’ interests and behaviours in store are currently entirely divorced from their lives online. Retailers know lots about in-store behaviour, and lots about online behaviour, but little about how the two are linked or what opportunities lie in between. If we can bring those two behaviours together, it gives retailers a much more powerful means with which to engage shoppers. Another aspect of the iPhone launch may inadvertently help drive change there too…
The biggest rumour in the run up to this launch centred around the demise of the 3.5mm headphone jack. And the rumour-mongers got it right. This means that one of the first things those new iPhone 7 owners will do with their new device is pair it to headphones or other accessories using Bluetooth. Getting rid of the headphone jack means millions of people who might never previously have visited the Bluetooth settings on their phone will be doing so frequently in the days and months to come. Thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), concerns over battery drainage have long been a thing of the past and with Apple bringing the connectivity sharply into the limelight, consumers everywhere are likely to start discovering just what else Bluetooth can do.
An example can be found, also on Regent Street. Over the last couple of years, the Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street, has developed a Regent Street app. Once installed on a smartphone, it offers shoppers a connected experience with which to explore the shops, boutiques and events along the so-called ‘Mile of Style’. The app connects with Bluetooth beacons installed along the Street and in various stores. The beacons can deliver messages direct to consumers about offers, promotions and information about merchandise.
These ‘active’ beacon messages can deliver a clear value to the consumer. They require significant user education about what the value is, and constant management to ensure that the messaging is contextual and relevant, but are already becoming a key part of retail strategy, particularly where ‘showrooming’ is a significant factor in the purchase cycle.
But while pushing messages to consumers is one way of using the technology for direct engagement, I expect to see the data from beacons start to influence the overall consumer experience. As online becomes more firmly embedded into the physical world, ‘passive’ beacons that simply register the presence of Bluetooth enabled device can help make the consumer experience more seamless. If a retailer can match online and offline data through beacons, they can reveal their real value.
This technology represents the key to unlocking a whole new dataset when it comes to browsing. A fleeting glance at a sofa in a department store becomes insight retailers can use. A five-minute perusal of the jeans section followed by a trip to the changing room reveals something quite different. With Bluetooth powered beacons tracking the entire journey, suddenly stores have a complete picture of physical browsing. If this particular trip doesn’t result in a converted visit to the checkout, the marketing department has everything it needs to begin online targeting. Conversely, with the smartphone sitting at the heart of the modern consumer’s shopping experience, brands can quickly ascertain when online browsing turns to in store buying thanks to Bluetooth powered beacons. This process works both ways. Understanding a user’s online interests and behaviour can be used in combination with location data to drive highly qualified incremental footfall in to physical stores.
So, Apple’s move to sell more of the Beats headphones it acquired back in 2014 could have a huge impact on the entire retail sector. As consumers scramble to pick up wireless accessories and ensure their Bluetooth is on, retailers everywhere have a real opportunity to bridge the gap between on line and offline. Joining up the physical and digital retail worlds through beacons could transform what brands understand about their customers, and how they interact with them. One day, we might even understand what makes people sleep outside the Apple Store overnight.
By David Philippson
Managing Director – Mobile Solutions