Retail & Location-based Services

Bluetooth beacons find new uses beyond the retail market.

The proliferation and near universal availability of Bluetooth® technology is opening up new markets at all ends of the spectrum. Beacons or iBeacons—small objects transmitting location information to smartphones and powered by Bluetooth with low energy—make the promise of a mobile wallet, mobile couponing, and location-based services possible.

Retail explores beacon usage

The retail space is the first to envision a future for beacons using for everything from in-store analytics to proximity marketing, indoor navigation and contactless payments. Think about a customer who is looking at a new TV and he/she gets a text with a 25 percent off coupon for that same TV and then pays automatically using an online account. Retailers are also looking at using beacons to "unlock dressing rooms, or even prepare your favorite drink when you walk into the coffee shop."

What Bluetooth brings to the table

Retailers and brands alike have been experimenting with push marketing for years, but the technology and support from major phone manufacturers was lacking. Bluetooth brings three essential features to the beacon experience:

  • An intelligent wireless connection to authenticate and manage interactions
  • An extremely power-efficient connection that doesn't drain the user's phone battery
  • Nearly ubiquitous support from phone manufacturers and mobile operating systems

Beacons powered by Bluetooth with low energy just work with the devices consumers already have, making it a reliable and cost-effective solution for stores and brands.

"Bluetooth with low energy has made it possible for PayPal to create compelling location-based payment solutions and shopping experiences. With PayPal Beacon, shoppers can do hands-free payments and get relevant in-store offers and notifications," — Hasty Granbery, lead engineer, PayPal Beacon

Beacons go beyond retail

Applications go beyond retail or location based marketing. For instance, SK Telecom and Seoul National University Bundang Hospital are using Bluetooth beacons to provide round-the-clock patient information and navigation to its 6,000 daily patients. Analysts estimate beacons, acting as hubs, will be deployed all over airports and transit stations to easily send out notifications on departures, delays, passenger assignments, etc. We are also seeing Bluetooth beacons being deployed in the smart home and large event venues. A new use case on the horizon is using Bluetooth beacons to pinpoint locations and provide dispatchable addresses for 911 operators and emergency personnel.

"The use of Bluetooth with low energy technology just makes sense. NFC generally requires a customer action, such as tapping a phone to a tag, while GPS is pure overkill and not likely as accurate in some indoor locations," — Kevin Tofel, GigaOM ​