Bluetooth LE Beacons for Retail: Shopkick Pilots with Macy’s

Apple was one of the first big brands to announce it, Frank & Oak quietly told us their plans, while Radius and Sonic Notify were perhaps the true ‘firsts’.

But Macy’s is fast out of the gate through its partnership with ShopKick to support Bluetooth LE ‘beacons’ as part of the in-store shopping experience. (The beacons also include sonic notification to address lack of Bluetooth LE support on some Android devices).

Shopkick Launches ShopBeacon
Shopkick is an app that gives consumer real-time information on products available in their area. Until now, it has used geo-positioning to send you relevant offers from local stores. But now they’re taking it further – extending the experience right into the aisle using Bluetooth beacons.

ShopKick Beacons
ShopKick Beacons

The product, called ShopBeacon, includes an actual beacon: a blue bulb that transmits a signal to passing phones. As TechCrunch describes, ShopBeacons will help you to, well, shop:

Offers now will be pinged to users right when they are walking past them, or past a department that contains products that users have shown interest in before. And for those who have opted in, the iBeacon technology will also automatically open the app and can trigger other actions when you enter a participating store, such as telling users how many loyalty points they currently have to redeem towards a purchase (in the past users would have had to remember to do this themselves).

He says that the low-energy component of BLE is a significant part of the attraction of the technology: services like GPS-based location technology not only are less accurate in terms of location granularity, but those and other wide-area wireless signals tend to work patchily in stores, and they are also drain the batteries. On the shopBeacon side, Roeding tells me that a charged up sensor has a five-year battery life. (Existing Shopkick retailers like Target, Roeding says, may continue to use the legacy hardware alongside the shopBeacons; new retailers will be able to move to the all-in-one devices).

What it Means for the Beacon Makers
While Macy’s is a big name in retail the implications of ShopBeacon go beyond the big stores. It’s easy to see how ShopBeacon could be extended to smaller retailers. Beacons are cheap, ShopKick has the app…all you need to do is pop one on the wall, put in some content and you’re ready to go.

ShopBeacon doesn’t just herald more proof that Bluetooth LE isn’t a passing fad. It’s sure nice to have big names who are using the technology to give credence to the idea that this might very well be an NFC-killer.

It also heralds a challenge to those working at the other end of the technology stack: the creators of beacons and their back-end management systems. Because while companies like Estimote are creating their own versions of ShopBeacon by building from the beacon up, the true competition will come from large companies who are already delivering services and who can extend those services ‘down’ into beacons.

Companies like Urban Airship, ShopKick, and Digby’s Local Point already have large systems powering retail/location-based or content delivery. Extending their platforms to beacons isn’t a huge reach as Shopkick has proven with the launch of their new retail platform.

Now all we need for Christmas is for Santa to put a beacon in his sleigh and we’ll have all the proof we need that beacons are here to stay.

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