The Creative Ways Small Businesses Are Using Beacon Technology

The Creative Ways Small Businesses Are Using Beacon Technology
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This story appears in the November 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

This past summer, Google launched its Eddystone Bluetooth beacon system for Android, joining Apple’s iOS as a major player in the short-range messaging technology and making it accessible from either Apple or Android devices, which represent 96 percent of the world’s smartphone market. Beacons -- originally regarded as a way to push real-time flash sales to shoppers’ smartphones as they stroll store aisles -- are having a moment: Beyond offering digital coupons, the small wireless devices can expand loyalty efforts, provide indoor heat maps of customer engagement and conduct over-the-air transactions.

Big-box stores such as Home Depot and Target love beacons, according to Steve Hegenderfer, director of developer programs at beacon marketing firm Bluetooth SIG. “The advantage these mega companies gain by installing beacons is that they seem more like a small business,” he says. “Customers walk in and get a bit of personalized service through their smartphone like they’d get at a small outfit.”

But beacon tech isn’t limited to big retailers; small businesses can leverage it to out-tech the competition. “Businesses of all sizes need to make sure they’re thinking about this tech,” says Trevor Longino, head of PR and marketing for Polish startup, which packages beacon hardware and software for use by other companies. “It’s like how no one takes a company seriously if it doesn’t have a website. In 10 years’ time, if they don’t have a good beacon strategy, they’ll be thought of the same way.”

So how are small businesses putting beacons to work?

  • HotSpot, a Fredericton, New Brunswick- based beacon-tech company, is spurring commerce at local businesses in several Canadian towns by letting the stores pay for customers’ parking. Using beacons, businesses can send customers messages when time on their parking meter is low, or offer time at smartphone-enabled meters. “This sort of thing allows people to stay in the store longer and shop more,” Longino says. “It turns parking into an opportunity to generate revenue for all the businesses nearby.”
  • The tens of thousands of fans at multi-day music festivals routinely overpower the limited cellular networks at their remote locations. That’s why festivals such as Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Coachella in California use beacons as a workaround. The festivals promote a beacon-powered app called Aloompa. Once concertgoers load the app, it supplies site maps and real-time navigation, as well as event schedules and social media location-sharing capabilities.
  • For the past two years, NBA fans heading to the nosebleed seats in Oakland, Calif.’s Oracle Arena for a Golden State Warriors game received offers via their smartphones to pay the face-value difference for an upgrade to open seats closer to the court. Signal360, which developed the beacon system for the Warriors, has since set its sights on Major League Baseball stadiums and live- performance theaters.
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