So I was tucking into some nice chile verde at my favorite Mexican joint in Redwood City along with my colleagues Jake Sorofman and Andrew Frank. In between bites, I was proffering some unsolicited observations about beacon technology and just how useful I thought it was going to be to marketers.
My reservations: will I be distracted? will a beacon-enabled engagement mean anything to me? Will I get cool product information? Will a beacon-enabled transaction be better? More efficient? Or just . . . different? And, frankly if you need an app to take advantage of a beacon, couldn’t WiFi — which is deployed in many malls and stores, enable similar functionality? (Answer, yes, yes it can, with slightly less accuracy in terms of proximity.)
So I decided to go to the Apple Store and a Macy’s at the Stanford Shopping Center, a stone’s throw from Stanford University. I think a lot of Silicon Valley luminaries either dropped out of or graduated from there.
But mainly I went to these stores because Macy’s and Apple have (allegedly) deployed beacons in all of their stores. I think being near such an important icon of Silicon Valley’s growth and influence probably raised my expectations. Or maybe I just didn’t read the fine print in all the press releases.
That’s because one hour later, after wandering around both stores with their respective store-apps running on my iPhone 6 Plus, with my Bluetooth radio on, my WiFi radio on, my cellular radio on, and both their store-apps set to receive push-notifications and every other damn thing turned ON, I got zip.
Not an offer was pushed to me by a beacon (or anything else for that matter). I asked sales associates in both stores about beacons. The Apple Store employee at least knew what I was talking about and, as is sometimes the case, assumed that I didn’t have everything on. He confirmed that I did and said, “Wow I’ll have to check into that.” The Macy’s employee literally said, “Beacons? I have no idea what you’re talking about, dude.” (Actually, he didn’t say “dude,” but he looked like he wanted to.) Turns out, I can’t really blame the guy. It was my bad. I needed to get a separate third-party app, Shopkick, to actually use the beacons. Macy’s own iOS app doesn’t recognize beacons. (Or if it does, they’ve manged to keep that hidden.)
Beacons have been presented to the world as a cool new implementation of Bluetooth radio technology. My colleagues and I have, to-date, concluded there are two important (potential) benefits — the ability for a customer to come in range and receive product information or maybe even get a coupon or discount, and the ability to provide a grid of sensors to measure store traffic flow, footfalls etc.
Those really sound like awesome benefits. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to realize them.