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Beacons are Transforming the Retail World!

What would it feel like if you are on a shopping spree and the best offers in the world are showered on you in a jiffy without you having to browse? What if they show up even as you walk down the aisles of your favorite store? Is there any magic science behind this?

Not really! In the world of technology this is called ‘Beacons’ and retailers could not have asked for a better gift from the God of Technology!

What are ‘Beacons’?

Beacons is a technology that transmits messages to nearby smartphones based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). They can be embedded in small wireless devices that can be attached to a wall inside a shopping venue or even placed inside hidden objects, since the phones can detect beacons up to 70m away. An event app is required to be installed on the mobile phone that supports tracking technology to interface with the beacons. Beacons allow retailers to send push notifications or alerts to customers within the beacon’s range (which varies based on business need) about product offerings, discounts and more. There is potential for these alerts to be customized based on the customers’ previous experiences. It can also provide retailers the data about their customers’ shopping habits allowing them to make improvements to operations that will benefit both customer and retailer and also help in maintaining service standards.

What Makes Beacons Special Compared to Other Technologies?

If you were thinking that there are already many such technologies to provide customer data to retailers then wait a minute! I agree that other technologies may improve the customer experience within the store, but beacons get customers to the retailers!! And that is the main difference.

Secondly, the ease with which these beacons can be used makes it stand out from competition. They can even be placed in bus stops, streets adverts or tube stations to direct the customers towards a specific shop even before they go anywhere near it.

Beacon’s value proposition does not stop here.  A variety of companies have customized beacons to best suit their devices and needs. iBeacons is Apple’s way of implementing the BLE technology to provide location-based services to iPhone and iOS devices. Eddystone is Google’s extension to iBeacons.

A Little Bit About iBeacon and Eddystone

Beacons have been getting a lot of media attentions about how they are going to transform retail but iBeacons is much more than that. iBeacons are Bluetooth devices that let your iPhone or iPad know that beacons are nearby. iBeacons work only with app-centric protocols and specific apps. They transmit a UUID which is a 16 digit string of numbers, Major (4 digits) and Minor (4 digits). Beacons do not track anything by themselves but the apps do the tracking.

Eddystone can do what iBeacons can do and much more. Eddystone beacons can transmit three kinds of advertising packets called frame types.

Eddystone UID – a unique identifier associated with the beacons. This is used for pushing notifications or app actions just like proximity UUID from iBeacon.

Eddystone URL – a URL that can be broadcasted by a beacon or other objects. Once the device receives the signals, it displays the URL broadcasted.

Eddystone-TLM (Telemetry) – data obtained by sensors. This frame type enables you to trigger different actions, depending on different conditions, such as temperature, air pollution, loudness, or humidity.

That wasn’t enough. These protocols happened to be favoring one vendor over the other. To overcome this and create an open competitive market for proximity beacon implementations, Radius Networks came with an interoperable specification for proximity beacons called AltBeacon. AltBeacon uses application specific UUID instead of using the company ID thereby enabling the vendors to maintain technical standards compliance.

Let’s Get into Development

Each of the companies have their own proximity kits for developing location-aware apps. A rich SDK built on top of the latest Geofence and Beacon technology, the Proximity Kit gives you the events you need to keep your app relevant and useful to users.

Upon entering or leaving a Beacon or Geofence region, Proximity Kit notifies your app of the proximity event along with region identifiers and associated metadata. While in a Beacon region, Proximity Kit provides additional ranging services for continuous proximity updates relative to the phone’s distance from the Beacon.

There’s more to start developing your own apps. Did you find this article useful? In my next blog, I will be walking you through how to get started with proximity kit and developing cross-platform beacons enabled apps using different tools – Watch this space for more.

Shilpa Jayaram

Shilpa Jayaram

Shilpa works as a Senior Technical Lead at Trigent Software. She has over 12 years of experience in designing and developing web based Java applications. She comes with an expertise in SDLC phases end-to-end and solution designing. She has also had a chance to work as a techno functional analyst in pharmaceutical business and is now expanding her wings to the Android world.

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