Jason Del Rey

Recent Posts by Jason Del Rey

Apple Hopes to Usher in New Age of Personalized In-Store Shopping With iBeacon Rollout

After months of speculation, Apple today rolled out its iBeacon technology in all of its 254 U.S. stores, allowing the company to send notifications to shoppers’ phones based on their location within the store.

The technology, which sends data to phones via Bluetooth Low Energy from iPhones, iPads and other third-party hardware Apple has positioned around its stores, will initially be used to prompt shoppers who have installed the Apple Store app and agree to be tracked to take certain actions.

For example, shoppers who have come to the store to pick up a device they ordered online may receive a push notification-like message indicating that the product is ready and to swipe to view the confirmation.

Another implementation triggers a message to shoppers when they are near the store’s accessories department and will prompt them to read product reviews and pay with the app’s Easy Pay function, which lets shoppers scan a product’s bar code with their phone and pay from the app.

“We’re really excited about what iOS developers will be able to do with iBeacon, a technology we introduced with iOS 7 that uses Bluetooth Low Energy and geofencing to provide apps a whole new level of micro-location awareness, such as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores,” Apple said in a statement.

The messaging efforts used in this initial rollout are pretty straightforward. But you could imagine Apple rolling out increasingly sophisticated use cases as time goes on, perhaps ones that recommend purchases based on current products a user owns or on online shopping behavior.

But, perhaps more importantly, Apple likely views its rollout as one giant demonstration for other retailers looking to harness the power of mobile phones to give shoppers more personalized in-store visits via their own apps, whether it be special offers if a shopper spends a certain amount of time in one corner of a shop or information about products.

Similar technologies have been out there for some time, but Apple’s arrival in the space will likely speed up adoption.

The startup NewAer, for example, has been working on a technology similar to iBeacon for quite some time that supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and which it hopes to license to brands to use in their own apps. Its founder and CEO, Dave Mathews, said in an interview with AllThingsD in the fall that Apple’s entree will legitimize the space.

“IBeacon is a real win for us,” he said at the time. “We don’t really have to explain any more what this is about.”

Other kinds of startups, such as Nomi and Euclid, are beginning to capitalize on retailers’ desire to learn more about what goes on in their stores by tracking shoppers’ movements and providing retailers with information about how many people are visiting their stores, how frequently, and where they are spending time inside a given shop during a visit.

Nomi will work with a retailer to match a given device with a person’s real identity, should they opt in in some fashion. Euclid has refrained from doing this and provides retailers with aggregate data.

Any technology that hopes to match a specific device with an individual’s real-world identity will rightly raise privacy concerns, making the messaging around tracking opt-in critical to shoppers’ acceptance of the practice. Of course, shoppers will want to see some real value in exchange for information about themselves. Whether iBeacon and other technologies will provide that remains to be seen.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald