Are beacons here to stay?

Proximity in retail

It’s fair to say that 2014 was the year when there was a lot of talk about beacons, iBeacons and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors in general. But how much actual action was there? And are beacons a flash in the pan or must-adopt technology?

Beacon adoption in the US

In the US, 2014 saw some pretty heavy adoption of beacons with Walmart and Macy’s in particular embracing the technology, the former for store analytics insights and the latter for marketing directly to their consumers in-store.

Europe has been slower off the mark, which fits with the usual model of being around 6-9 months behind the US’s technology curve in general.

Beacon adoption in the UK

The UK, however, has arguably been more active than the continent with Tier 1 brands like Tesco, John Lewis, Asda and major airlines all demonstrating that they see proximity marketing and beacons in particular playing potentially crucial roles in marketing, CRM, visitor experience and service delivery in particular.

As proximity engagement specialists we aren’t devoted to a single technology. Beacons, WiFi, geo-fences and even NFC (despite it’s disadvantages) all offer distinct benefits and should be deployed as necessary to meet the business objective, not the proximity vendor’s particular product offering. That said, our proximity networks are primarily driven by beacons thanks to a pretty hard-to-beat combination of low-cost, super accuracy and easy implementation.

In the short term, those benefits mean we’ll see a mass adoption of beacons by retailers, leisure venues, stadia and public buildings such as museums and hospitals. My guess is that 2014 was the year to talk beacons up, 2015 will see trial by the remaining Tier 1 brands and Tier 2 will also start trialling and late 2015 and then 2016 will be the year that serious proximity networks will be established across an increasing number of retail chains, store groups and large-audience venues.

Longer term prospects for beacons?

But what of the long-term prospects for beacons? Our bet is that they are here to stay until another technology comes along that matches the cost-to-benefit ratio of beacons, which is incredibly low.

On past performance, Wi-Fi, NFC, beacons and so on, it seems that a new, truly disruptive tech is probably around five years away. Give it another few years for adoption and it means anyone investing in beacon technology right now has at least 5-6 years ROI to look forward to.

Proximity marketing specialists like ourselves understand this and build our products, like Control Room, to be flexible and accommodating of new technology. Where Control Room currently manages both beacons and geo-fences, we are already working on new sensors that combine both the advantages of bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This is another exciting development for proximity networks as it means the store or venue can more easily have a two-way relationship with the visitor.

As we see brands adopt proximity marketing en-masse, lead by beacon-based solutions, and as consumers increasingly benefit from a closer relationship with the favourite brands and organisations, it’s clear that beacons’ role in the ‘Internet of Things’ is significant and as such are here for a good while yet.

Ian Malone is the CEO of Airspace.