Why Retail "Beacons" Are Doomed to Fail

retail beacons doomed to fail

Beacon technology in retail is all the rage these days.  Why?

A beacon is a bluetooth-enabled device that connects with your customer's phones when they walk into or near your store. The idea is to be notified when a customer walks in, offer them a personalized experience, give coupons and discounts, or convince them to come in when they simply walk by.

For beacon technology to work effectively, there are four obstacles it forces the user to overcome.

1) Bluetooth is terrible

Retail beacons rely on a new, low power version of Bluetooth technology. There's just one problem with that.

Bluetooth is bad. Plain and simple. At least right now. 

With Bluetooth, the gap between concept and actual execution is about as wide as the Grand Canyon. The idea behind the tech sounds good but it's more complicated. 

PINs, confusing device names, dropped signals, device discovery issues... the Internet is filled with stories of frustrated users trying to use this broken tech. In fact, overall customer satisfaction in the auto industry has taken a big hit due largely to Bluetooth problems.

Is this really what we want to base a "retail revolution" on?

Not to mention, these beacons today require customers to walk around with their phone's Bluetooth activated, killing their already weak battery life. 

Not gonna happen.

2) It complicates the customer experience

See if you can find a common trend from these quoted sources:

The beacons reach out to customers when someone walks by with a Bluetooth enabled smartphone and the right application. - Huffington Post

Apple explains iBeacon technology to consumers as the enabling technology for Apple devices to alert apps or websites (which the user has opted into) when someone approaches or leaves a location. - Forbes

Thus, the carrier of the smartphone has to have installed an app – and if he or she has not done so, no message will arrive. - Harvard Business Review

"Install, opt-in to, right application..."

In a time where retailers should be focusing on their customer's experience above all else, it's incredible how so many are focused on the tech side of things.

If your new technology does nothing to simplify and unify your customer experience, then what's the point?

Beacon technology isn't simplifying anything, it does the exact opposite. It complicates everything.

3) Nobody wants your app

App retention is at an all-time low, with the average app losing 77% of its users in the first three days. Put simply, people are drowning in apps.

Why should they download yours? So they can receive even more unwanted push notifications on their phone?

Requiring users to download your app to receive offers they will potentially be interested in is counter intuitive. It creates yet another obstacle in your buying journey instead of removing one.

4) It's intrusive (and a little creepy)

The debate on privacy vs convenience has been raging for the past few years. Many simply have not come to terms with just how intrusive modern technology has become.

If you're going to request require people to give up even more of their personal information in exchange for some specials on scented candles, you better be sure that they love the experience.

Based on the current state of beacon tech, it's safe to say that very few shoppers would find this service valuable.

How about this instead?

What if, instead of trying to find ways to remove humans from the retail shopping experience, you amplify their best traits and empower them?

As a retailer, your greatest asset will always be your people. The human connection is the biggest reason why retail is, in fact, not dying.

It's why retail sales reps are actually in more demand than ever before.

Creating a quality omnichannel experience that your human reps can be actively involved in will ensure your customers keep coming back to see them (even if it might not actually be them every time).

Beacons may have useful applications in other environments but, unless we find ways to overcome these glaring obstacles, (instead of forcing customers to overcome them) you'll soon find it in the recycling bin with other failed retail tech.

Until next time.

About the Author

Kevin Gervais

He started coding at age 7. His first board meeting was at age 14. He was using Facebook before it was cool (2005). You'll often find Kevin thinking about the future of retail, applied AI and how to create world-class buying experiences.

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