iBeacon seems to be making a pretty rapid transition into the mainstream, with stores like Apple, Macy’s, American Eagle, inMarket and bars all adopting it – as well as non-retail applications like Major League Baseball parks.

If you’re still not familiar with it, our iBeacon briefing provides the low-down, but the tl;dr summary is that when you walk into a retail store equipped with iBeacons, you’ll be invited to allow alerts to be sent to your iPhone. Say yes, and the store will be able to send you messages and invite you to view content based on anything it knows about you and where you are in the store.

The question is: will iBeacon alerts be a welcome way to add value to our visit, or just a new form of spam … ? 

My own view is it will very much depend on how intelligently retailers implement the system, and that personalization is key. Let’s start with examples of iBeacon alerts I’d welcome.

Store-wide offers (eg. spend $50 today and get 10% off)

This is about the only type of generic message I would welcome. It’s equally relevant whether we’re in the market for a new gadget or a new pair of shoes. Almost everything else, though, I think needs to be targeted based on either what the store knows about my purchase history, or from my in-store behaviour.

Specific product offers relevant to me

If stores use apps linked to loyalty memberships (or Apple ID in the case of Apple Stores), they ought to be able to base offers on purchase history. For example, if Apple knows I recently purchased an iPad Air but no case, it could send me offers on those.

Brand new products relevant to me

If a store knows I bought a bicycle GPS device there three years ago, and now there’s a much better model just out with a bunch of new features, it would be reasonable to let me know about it. Ideally, it would then use its awareness of my location in the store to guide me directly to the product. (Note to gadget retailers: I very specifically do not want to know when there’s a better model out than the one I bought just three weeks ago …)

Information & videos on products I’m looking at

If I’ve been standing in front of a product display for 30 seconds or more, it’s reasonable to assume I’m interested in it – and I’d welcome being sent a link to more product information or to a demonstration video.

What I don’t want to see

But what I don’t want to receive are offers on random products, ‘just in’ news on products that are of no interest to me, and links to product information just because I walked past a display.

I don’t want to know that it’s the store’s fifth anniversary, that there’s a live demonstration of a new Lego toy about to start, that there are hair-care representatives available for free consultations or that I can get a store card right now on the fifth floor.

Send me alerts relevant to me, and I’ll be a happy customer and you’ll probably sell me more stuff. Send me junk, and I’m going to decline future invitations and you’ll probably make me feel less inclined to shop in your store into the bargain.

What are your views? Can you think of other examples of alerts you’d like to receive? And how likely to you think retailers are to get it right? Let us know in the three-question poll and in the comments.

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25 Responses to “Opinion & poll: Will in-store iBeacon alerts be a welcome value-add, or a spam nightmare?”

  1. alanaudio says:

    iBeacons needs users to install an app. What that app does is down to that company. If they use iBeacons and their app to genuinely enhance the shopping experience of their customers, those customers will welcome it and provide positive reviews. On the other hand, if they annoy customers and pester them, the customers will provide negative reviews and uninstall the app.

    It would be a pretty stupid company that set about deliberately annoying it’s customers, but when I look around, I can see no shortage of stupid companies that either intentionally or unintentionally manage to annoy their customers.

    It’s very tricky when it comes to advertising. The company selling the product will imagine that I need to know about their product, while I think that they’re being annoying jerks when they pester me about crap that doesn’t interest me. The company needs to be able to see things from the perspective of the customer, instead of through the eyes of the company.

    It’s going to take a while for things to find an equilibrium that works well for both sides.


  2. John Smith says:

    I’m not bothered what alerts they want to send out – I just want to know that I can turn it off all together.

    I don’t want to have to get my phone out and decline alerts every time I walk in through the front door of a shop. That would alienate me towards both the shop and the iPhone.

    If alanaudio is correct that it only works if you download an app (or even just turn a slider on/off) then fine by me – other people may want to use the facility.


  3. I think that I will answer yes.

    Some companies will get it right and some companies will get it wrong.

    The real key to it all is like you and alanaudio said, knowing your customer and being intelligent about it.

    For instance, in reference to your example of offering a case for my newly purchased iPad. I recently purchased an external CD writer from an online retailer. After my checkout they posted confirmation of the order and listed some products that I might be interested in based on my recent purchase. The top five items offered? External CD writers. I laughed. What sort of suggestion algorithm looks at a recent purchase and then offers to sell the person the exact same type of thing that they just purchased?

    This type of retailer will get it wrong.


  4. It might integrate nicely with iWatch (if it ever takes off). Otherwise, it’s spam.


  5. There should be another option: A huge flop like Passbook.

    Sounds cool, hopefully it’ll work. It seems like it should be where everything is eventually headed but is it ready? Will places adopt it? Will people know what to do with it? Will people want to use if it they do know what to do with it?

    Lots of variables.


  6. PMZanetti says:

    Right now iBeacons are totally and exclusively opt-in, via the need to install an app. Can’t call that spam, whatsoever.

    Pretty tired of the word spam in general. People think everything they didn’t ask for is spam, and its really irritating. If you want to participate in the internet, be prepared to see some advertising.


    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I think the term is a little broader than that. I opt in to a number of communications, and that company can them send me useful things targeted to me, or lots of useless things that I’ll consider spam.


    • re: “People think everything they didn’t ask for is spam ..”

      This is pretty close to the exact definition of spam. The definition hangs precisely on that word. “Unwanted.”

      ALL “unwanted” intrusions of advertising are in fact, “spam” by definition.


    • PMZanetti says:

      I understand…I just don’t see what the big deal is. A company should be able to send you legitimate targeted marketing until you yourself unsubscribe from it.

      Some people freak out over receiving spam and it just boggles my mind. These are the same people who get 30 pieces of actually wasteful junk snail mail every day and just toss them out and think nothing of it.


  7. Len Williams says:

    Like any other marketing activity, some companies will do it with class, simplicity and elegance, and others will turn it into useless spam. The good thing is that you don’t HAVE to pull out your phone when you enter every store you walk into — and if you’ve already pulled your phone out and found the messages irritating: put your phone away, or walk out of the store. You always have the choice of turning the thing off.


  8. When they promote iBeacons Apple generally says something like “help you navigate the store and find what you are looking for,” and then something about “promotions” and “info” (basically adverts). I prefer the former.

    If I can go into a store and pop up a map or directions to something then it’s useful, because otherwise you have to walk all around the store looking for something. Like if I know I want a headset and the iPhone can tell me they are “10 metres ahead, third shelf down from the top” that’s fantastic and useful. If on the other hand (as I suspect) they will primarily be used for adverts, then I will turn the functionality off the first time I get exasperated with the adverts and will never turn it on again.


  9. sardonick says:

    Will never be enabled on my phone.


  10. It seems to me this is a change in “granularity” to what many stores already do with wifi via in-store tracking. It adds significant functionality, but just enhances what stores strive to do.


  11. dcj001 says:

    iBeacon alerts are nothing of which to be afraid:


  12. iBeacons in huge supermarkets= YES.
    Just imagine having iBeacons in supermarkets, and use their App to look up , and get the location on the store map + iBeacons help show where you are now.. YES!


  13. Nice Post!

    I’m currently involved in an iBeacon Proof-of-Concept for a big box european retailer, and the most significant project-item regards the shopping-experience.
    Engaging shoppers too much means disturbing them, so you have to determine the optimal “interaction” trade-off.

    I published a white-paper about iBeacons-at-work titled “iBeacon Bible”; feel free to download it from my blogsite http://www.gaia-matrix.com; it can be valuable if you’re involved in this technology or just want to know more.

    Andy Cavallini


  14. Winski says: