Beacon technology has failed to gain any meaningful traction. The buzz is reminiscent of when marketers and advertisers rushed to implement QR codes. Many consumers in the USA still do not know how to interact with a QR code, much less a beacon. The reason for this is friction. With the current beacon technology, you need to have an app on your phone that can receive a message from the beacon. This presents a major challenge for retailers, museums and restaurants using beacons today, as it relates to user adoption.

A beacon is a small piece of hardware about the size of a quarter that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to transmit messages (or advertisement) to a mobile device. For retailers, one of the biggest challenges they face is designing the omnichannel experience. In other words, users today typically buy a product after researching the product online. They may go into a physical store to investigate a product further, hopefully triggering a purchase. The purchase can be made online or offline, but for a retailer, the ability to interact with a customer whether that customer is online or offline is one of the reasons why beacons are interesting.

The biggest benefit of beacon technology is that a beacon can communicate with mobile devices, such as your cell phone or tablet, that are within range and without accessing the Internet. Meaning, a retailer can interact with their customer when they are near a beacon regardless of whether a WiFi connection is available or not. The problem, as I mentioned previously, is you need an app on your phone that can receive the message from the beacon.

Here are some reasons why I think traction for beacons has and will continue to be difficult:

  • One-third of smartphone owners drive the entire app ecosystem, with seven percent of owners downloading nearly half of all the apps.
  • Those who download apps spend 85 percent of the time on smartphones in apps, but only five apps see heavy use. 
  • Approximately 60 percent of users opt-out of push notifications.

I do think there are some apps well positioned to make use of beacons. I cover more of this topic in this Huffington post article.

For my next post, I will take a more in-depth view into the Physical Web, Google's experimental project that scans for scans for URLs that are nearby.   

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