Apple launched iBeacons three years ago and things have been pretty subdued since. So why is there so much faith in Google’s late-to-the-party version?
Three years is a lifetime in tech. Three (and a bit) years ago, for example, the hoverboard – you know, that thing on wheels that definitely doesn’t hover – made its debut. Now imagine the reception a company would get if it decided to proudly announce the launch of its very own hoverboard today. At best, surely the response would be a resounding ‘meh’.
But that’s what Google did with beacons. Apple got there first and appeared to have rather lost interest in the whole concept by the time Google got around to trialling its Project Beacon at the start of the year (we wrote about our invitation to the beacon party last December).
So why is this different? Why is Google gaining headlines for doing something someone else did ages ago?
And why is there a belief – perhaps even an expectation – that this could be something of a gamechanger? Well…
A quick recap: beacons are one-way transmitters that you can use to ‘mark’ your physical store(s) or venue(s). To get up to speed you need the physical transmitter running the Eddystone protocol, and then you need to register it with Google.
From then on, you get the ability to ping notifications to potential customers’ mobiles as they pass by. New season products, sales, discount codes – they can all be delivered to customers precisely at the point at which they’re most likely to use them, i.e. when they’re close to your store.
A physical thing
Why such faith in physical proximity? Well, according to Google’s own stats, 76% of people who make an online search visit a physical store the same day and 28% of them buy. 30% of all searches are location-related, and Google has seen searches for phrases such as ‘stores open now’ double in a year. Mobile searches of ‘where to find…’-type searches have also increased.
What does all of this tell us? It tells us that the increase in mobile searches has led to shifting habits in what we’re searching for, and that shift has been towards physical stores. Now, if you’re familiar with AdWords you’ll already know that location based targeting and local search ads on Google Maps have been with us for ages and they’re perfectly effective.
So what difference does a Google Beacon make and why has interest skyrocketed.
To date, the issue has always been measurement. You can track a customer’s actions cross- platform and cross-device but the moment they put the phone back in the bag and go instore, getting an accurate understanding of what happens in the final stage of the transaction has been impossible.
Cost per click may be the dominant pricing model for search, but what happens when the customer stops clicking and frustrates the system by, you know, physically going shopping?
Beacons help address this attribution problem, registering store visits and enabling stores to tie notifications and online searches far more effectively to consumer actions in the final stages of the transaction.
The convenience of the beacon
You’re in an airport, and the retailers within the airport are eager to serve you with a whole bunch of discounts and offers while you’re waiting for your flight. Only you can’t receive them because you didn’t download the airport app. You didn’t even realise there was an airport app. And now you do know about it, you’re not about to waste a chunk of the data you’ll need on holiday downloading it.
Apps can be incredibly valuable business tools, but there’s one crucial element that needs to be in place for them to work: customers need to know about them and have downloaded them. Beacons do away with placing any onus whatsoever on the customer. Assuming the phone is set to receive notifications, beacons give businesses a simple, lean way to connect without the barrier presented by the app.
Now consider how effective that could be for theatres that can let passers-by know about late ticket availability for tonight’s performance. Or the cinema that can coax spur of the moment visits with the offer of a free popcorn. Or the restaurant that has just one or two tables left for Valentine’s Day.
There’s an immediacy about Beacons. That’s something that can help capitalise on what Google calls ‘micro-moments’, the points when we turn to our mobiles for answers. If you’re in a store looking for a new TV and a notification for a cheaper, better reviewed TV appears, you take a major bite out of the lag between research and purchase.
Of course, there was an immediacy about beacons when Apple introduced them. The difference is the infrastructure that supports today’s system.
One final area in which beacons stand to refine the customer experience yet further is payment. Now, I’ll be honest, with the advent of contactless it seemed to me that the process of paying for the things I want is already about as frictionless as I need it to be. The fact I can pay with my phone just means I get to wave it rather than my card in the direction of the store’s NFC terminal.
But beacons could help take even that minor inconvenience out of the equation by giving Android Pay the opportunity to operate in a similar fashion to PayPal’s Beacon system. Once the notifications have sent you an offer you can’t refuse, you can accept the offer with a tap, wander into store to pick up your goods and leave again without taking your phone out of your pocket. If it works like the PayPal system, your image will appear on the retailer’s screen, they’ll acknowledge it’s you, and the transaction will be completed without you having to raise a finger.
That may sound like a refinement too far, but when you consider the current trials of checkout-free stores, its capabilities like this that will enable them.
If there’s a challenge with beacons right now, it lies in getting your head around just what they could do for you. With so much potential, there are plenty of services beacons could offer that could leave you asking ‘why would I need that?’ and ‘what difference would that make?’ As with all things Google, the trick lies in refining the smorgasbord of opportunities to arrive at the tools and services that really work for you. And that can take a little help.
So If you need a guide to help you navigate your way to the beacons services that could really give you the edge, talk to us or comment below if you have any questions