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Bluetooth beacon advertising: The Minority Report or the future of shopping?

04 August 2017

Here’s how retailers are using low-energy beacon WiFi to send hyper-personalised advertising to shoppers.

In the 2002 film The Minority Report, Tom Cruise runs away from things. A lot. Unfortunately for Tom, his pursuers are always one step behind him thanks to an “optical recognition system” that allows the police to track his movements. In the film, this system is also used by advertisers to broadcast targeted media directly into his retinas as a hyper-personalised form of advertising that isn’t seen by anybody else.

As the world sees regularly, reality often doesn’t stray too far from science fiction. Tech-savvy retailers and hospitality outlets are already starting to use wireless technology to send targeted push notifications to mobile devices (not eyeballs, fortunately) as customers browse a shop floor. Is this an intrusive step towards the near-dystopian future we see in The Minority Report, or simply the next step in providing a more engaging shopping experience for consumers?

What technology is used to make this possible?

Organisations are starting to install low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) beacons around their establishments that broadcast radio signals that can be picked up by iOS and Android mobile devices. If that mobile device has a compatible application such as a store app, a personalised push notification can be sent to the device. Here’s an example: if Tom Cruise’s character in The Minority Report was running past the Ted Baker suit section of House of Fraser, he could receive a notification to his mobile phone with a voucher for 20% off a Ted Baker suit, but only if he purchases it in the next 30 minutes. Great, right?

What’s the benefit of this?

Hopefully, you can see the benefits of mobile engagement through beacons for the retailer. They’re interacting with their customers while they’re in-store, offering real-time opportunities for upselling. Compare this to a more traditional rewards card, when the retailer only engages with their customers after they’ve left the store…

What about the benefits for the customer? Retailers are providing them with a digital shopping assistant, and improved access to better deals and promotions. It’s also worth mentioning that retail isn’t the only sector that beacon technology is being used effectively. Check out this video that explores how beacons are used alongside digital applications to make a visit to a football match much more engaging for a fan.

What about personal data protection?

One of the key themes in The Minority Report is lack of privacy. The police literally know where Tom is running the whole time, at least until [spoiler alert] he undergoes eye surgery to get new retinas and avoid the optical recognition system. In the real world, data would be hypothetically captured from a mobile phone, so do beacons capture personal data and store it for later use? According to Aruba Networks, one of the leading providers of beacon technology, this is far from the case. Their site states that they protect the privacy of their customer’s guests, and don’t collect mobile device identity. So don’t worry folks – mobile engagement and beacon technology is still a long way away from the world represented in The Minority Report.

If you’re a retailer or are looking for ways to increase engagement in a stadium, hospital, enterprise or other public venues, get in touch with Prodec Networks to find out how a beacon deployment can help.

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