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Beacons ease use of micro-location in e-commerce

13 Feb 2014  | Julien Happich

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For example, a first beacon would greet you at the entrance of a restaurant at street level, offering you the menu. A second beacon at table-level could take your order and pass it on directly to the kitchen. Or leaving the table-area in a furniture shop where you would have interacted with different size options from the online catalogue, the next beacon in the chair display area could ping your phone about matching chairs at a discount if purchased with the table.

Avoiding notification overload

Of course, you have to use the beacon feature in a subtle way. "We expect that if there isn't enough added-value for them, annoyed consumers will kill the application straight away," commented Krzych. So Estimote educates its customers with guidelines to implement clever scenarios that really bring value to their clients. So far, the company has more than 40,000 nodes running in pilot projects and over ten thousand development kits sent out around the world for contextual applications.

It was only last December that Apple started to promote micro-geolocation through its own stores, using a newly launched iBeacon application supported by iOS 7.

"Apple is always designing its products with a priority on customer user-experience, and it did a great job at making iBeacon friction-less," said Krzych.

"For example, if you keep your phone in your pocket, the beacons won't ping you with unnecessary messages. But if you unlock your screen as you move towards a product, then you may want to interact with an item or take a picture, this is when the nearest beacon will send you promotional info," he added.

However, even when locked, the smart phone could be continuously monitoring the strength of the signal to notify the application whenever the user enters a zone, to change their context.

Apple didn't release the final specifications of iBeacon to developers, but the company promised to release them within the next couple of months or so, according to Krzych who watches this space closely. Anyhow, the beacons come with a fleet-management system and can be updated over the air. The start-up expects full-scale deployment of beacons worldwide later this year.

PayPal is also experimenting with beacons to facilitate the use of its e-payment solution in stores, though the company claims the PayPal beacon won't constantly track users' location. It will only take information from users who opted in. The company is piloting PayPal Beacon in a few stores in the U.S. and Australia with plans to expand in the U.K., Canada, France and Germany. With these new developments in mind, Jennifer Kent, senior analyst at market analysis firm Parks Associates, expects Bluetooth to play a much larger role in the mobile wallet ecosystem in 2014.

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