If you haven’t heard about beacons… you will soon.

What are Beacons?

Beacons are tiny radio transmitters that search for nearby Bluetooth capable devices like a smartphone or tablet. These transmitters are able to determine the proximity of a device to the beacon itself and send specific triggers to an app on the device.

The type of Bluetooth connection the beacons utilize is called Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE. This is the same wireless connection you may use for your wireless headphones or a wireless speaker. BLE can have a range of 150 feet or more.

4.5 million by 2018.

Currently, Business Insider estimates that there are less than 500,000 beacons in use in the US in 2015; that number is expected grow exponentially in the next couple of years. Some estimates place the number of beacons deployed to be at 4.5 million by 2018 – that’s an increase of 9x in just 3 years.

So where should you be expecting to see these beacons? Retail.

Retail is the big driver of beacon activity. The ability to sense and track a shopper by their phone generates valuable data for retailers and that is just the beginning. If you have a store’s beacon enabled app on your phone and you approach a beacon within the store, it will recognize you, where you’re standing and can trigger a message to appear on your device based that knowledge. The beacon could trigger a coupon, reward points and information about a particular product or more. Some analysts estimate that $4 billion worth of US retail sales are already influenced by beacons – most of which is done by marketing coupons and special offers directly to the shopper’s device.


But wait… there’s even more.

Digital signage and beacons are becoming BFFs in the world of technology because of big-data stores have collected and the power of consumer choice.

Beacons, digital signage and back-of-house customer relationship management systems offer opportunities to leverage big data to deliver more relevant and meaningful messaging right at the point of purchase. Beacons can trigger smartphones and tablets, but they can also trigger a digital sign. With these BFFs working together, you can deliver intelligent, profile-based messaging to a shopper’s smartphone and to the digital signage that surrounds them. Taking into consideration a past purchases or preferences allow for much more targeted messaging that can enhance the shipping experience. Think of it like Amazon making personal recommendations for you when you shop online or how Google Ads on your screen direct you to things from your search history. Stores are already collecting this data – it’s time to put it to use in order to compete with the online market place.

Another innovative way beacons and digital signage are working together is to turn a shopper’s smartphone into a digital signage remote. Here at Convergent, we have a beacon/digital signage application that triggers your smartphone with specific content options. Want to see a trailer for a movie? Click here. Want to see a preview for a new video game? Click here. Want to see how those Italian shoes are made? Click here. Each of those clicks signals the digital sign to play that chosen content. It gives the customer the power to decide what they see, which increases relevancy and creates a fun and interactive experience.

The hurdles we still need to cross.

So this all sounds really cool, right? But there are some obstacles that need to be solved to meet the surge in demand that analysts predict.

One problem is the apps themselves. Like we said, beacons don’t actually send any data to your phone – they just have an awareness of your proximity. The coupons and the data, all that is pulled from web servers and delivered to your phone through an app. When it comes to the app, retailers have a couple options:

  1. A dedicated store app such as a Walgreens. One app for one store makes it easy, but how many consumers want an app for every retailer store they shop at?
  2. A joint store app is another option. Shopkick is a great example of this. Their retail beacon app is partnered with multiple stores such as Target, Macy’s and Best Buy.

Another option might be on the horizon as Samsung is working on beacon awareness build into smartphones – no app required. It remains to be seen how consumers will handle this; it may seem to some like a loss of privacy.

Beacons are going to be a powerful force out in the real world and the integration with digital signage and other systems can take them to a whole new level.

To learn more about beacons and why they and digital signage are BFFs, check out our whitepaper. It has excellent examples of how beacons are being used right now in stores, sporting arenas, airports and in England’s famed Kew Gardens.