iBeacons link digital and physical world

iBeacons are often no more than a few centimetres in size and consist of a transmitter and a battery. And, just like a buoy or a lighthouse, they transmit a simple signal.

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iBeacons | Blauw Research

In fact no more than a unique code, from which the receiver can tell which beacon it is. The receiver is an app on a smartphone and the signal is received via Bluetooth. If the smartphone enters the vicinity of a linked iBeacon, an action is triggered in the app. So that's the technology. But what are the applications? Ivo Langbroek, Innovation Officer at Blauw, talks about the practicalities.

Many iBeacon applications are to do with, as you might expect, navigation. So the ASK app at the Brooklyn Museum in New York can see which painting you are standing in front of and for example can display additional information about it. In Turin zoo you can be guided to your favourite animals via iBeacons. And Easyjet uses the technology to inform passengers that it is time to have their boarding passes ready and show their passports. In addition to service applications, iBeacons are increasingly being used for couponing, loyalty and advertising, including in the Netherlands.

De Bijenkorf installed 140 iBeacons at the checkouts of their branch in Rotterdam to invite customers with the de Bijenkorf app to become Privilege Members. when participants in this programme next visit the checkout, the checkout employee already knows who you are and you receive a more personal service. In Sneek, with the support of the Zuidwest-Friesland local authority, an entire network of iBeacons has been installed whereby museums, shops, and catering outlets can display informative messages and offers in a specially developed app.

Free French fries
McDonald's is the first advertiser in the Netherlands to incorporate iBeacons in the shelters at bus stops. Users of the McDonald's app who are waiting at the bus shelter receive a message that they can win free fries by solving a puzzle. The free fries appear as a coupon in the McDonald's which can be exchanged in a McDonald's restaurant. An innovative way to get customers to pay an extra visit to a restaurant.

Real behaviour
Ibeacons are not only perfect for retail applications. they also provide market researchers with unique opportunities, but unfortunately we're a bit behind in this at the moment. Consumers communicate increasingly via their smartphones and apps with their favourite brands and service providers. Communication with your bank is via mobile banking, you check your data bundle in your mobile provider's app, you send your meter readings to your energy supplier in their mobile app.

As researchers, why are we not tapping into this and couldn't we ask our questions more frequently via these apps? Ibeacons and geofencing via GPS enable us to ask the right question at the right time and in the right place. this makes it more relevant to the respondent and we also know the context.

Two crucial issues which enhance the quality and impact of research. The traditional long questionnaire can be split up into a series of mini-questionnaires with which we can determine at what time and location the question is asked - at a time that is logical for the recipient to provide information. And because we already know the context, we no longer have to ask that question. The traditional email invitation for the completion of a (too) long questionnaire may be practical for the researcher but only if it is returned. Using iBeacons to respond at the exact time that behaviour is displayed (and emotions experienced) has a much greater future.

And let's also not forget the passive data you obtain from iBeacons. How do customers browse through shops? How often does someone with your brand's app on his phone pass the store? And if he enters the store, can you explain that from his behaviour on your website or app?

Current departure times
Because we would like to acquire more knowledge and experience of the potential opportunities, we have a dozen or so iBeacons in Blauw's head office in Rotterdam. In the meeting rooms they inform users of the Blauw Location Based Services app of the wifi password.

Spectators of qualitative fieldwork can navigate to the interview spectator rooms via iBeacons. Upon passing the exit, visitors leaving our office automatically receive a request to evaluate their visit by completing a brief mobile questionnaire. If someone walks toward Central Station they receive notification of the current departure times on the various platforms. A year of use has taught us that it is still quite a challenge to keep messages relevant. A frequent visitor to our office has different requirements than someone visiting for the first time. In the meantime we have progressed far enough to enable us to apply the technology successfully to our clients' projects.

Digital footprint
The added value of iBeacons is the possibility to link a digital footprint to our physical location. Whereas a shopper was formerly someone without a 'history' (a good shopkeeper was characterised by a 'good nose' for what someone came into the shop for), that is now all in the past. Visiting a physical location is an identifiable and measurable in the path-to-purchase or customer journey. It provides unprecedented new opportunities but also requires a different thought process for us as market researchers. We must take into account the times and places which are relevant to the consumer in order to give feedback on what he experiences. One challenge that we must address: Will consumers in the future, busy and empowered as they are, wish to participate in research?

The number of suppliers of iBeacons is increasing fast and the price is coming down just as quickly.. The major suppliers are Estimote and Kontakt.io from Poland. But there are also Dutch suppliers such as Glimworm and Beaconic. The price of an iBeacon is around 25 Euros if you purchase a small quantity. Bulk prices are a few Euros lower.