Brands should be wary of calling 2014 the ‘year of Beacons’

Advertiser support for proximity-based marketing tool Beacons is gathering pace in the UK but marketers should avoid calling 2014 the “year of Beacons”, as some technology start-ups have done, if they are to dodge the same teething problems that stunted mobile marketing’s growth.

Seb Joseph

Brands including WHSmiths, Game and Nandos became the latest to jump on the Beacons bandwagon earlier this week adopting technology many marketing experts claim is the future of retail shopping.

The low cost hardware is at the Swan Centre shopping center on the south coast, making the first in the UK to implement the tool. Shoppers who download the center’s “SmartRewards” loyalty app, can access real-time rewards and incentives based on their location.

It promises retailers the ability to serve highly relevant messages, content and offers to smartphones at the exact time and place they are most useful. But there are a myriad of obstacles to overcome before brands reach this shopper marketing nirvana.

Installing Beacons is easy. However, the cost of the equipment needed to scan the mobile coupons has left retailers dragging their heels. More importantly, privacy concerns have left many brands cautious over deploying the technology in fear of losing shopper data.

If a retailer puts Beacons in their store and does not do anything to secure customers’ details, then effectively anyone can access those devices within that zone. A retailer could set their app so that when a customer walks into their rival’s store, they are greeted with an incentive to leave. Similar horror stories are likely to emerge as brands get to grips with the hardware.

Companies such as Paypal, which is looking to challenge Apple’s iBeacons with beacon hardware of its own, will play a key role in breaking down the barriers to its wider adoption. Customers have to turn on Bluetooth, opt-in to relevant apps to receive notifications and accept location services. All of which they may decide is too much hassle to receive extra content.

Additionally, brands will need to think about how they manage and extract insights from the real-time feeds.

It is going to take a lot more than location-based rewards in-store to convince customers Beacons will enhance their shopper experience. Brands need to demonstrate how the insights they are extracting from users can be used to add value to the in-store experience without bombarding them with messages the moment they enter.

This is where shopper marketing agencies and Beacons specialists such as Appflare and TagPoints can help to educate brands with best practice examples and troubleshooting tips.

For almost a decade every year was going to be the year of the mobile but it never came due to a lack of understanding from marketers. A similar pattern could emerge with Beacons that prevent it from moving into the mainstream. The technology is an exciting opportunity but there is a long way to go before it is capable of delivering the truly personalised shopping experiences marketers crave.