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Geofencing and Beacons - what you can learn from mobile in other sectors

Mobile commerce has risen rapidly, growing by 40% in 2017 alone. Not only does spend on mobile account for 60% of all ecommerce spend, spend on mobile now accounts for 6% of total retail sales globally! That is now $1.4 trillion USD per year!

This shift is having a major and sometimes devastating impact on the retail and finance sectors.  But rather than competing with mobile, the retail and finance sectors are starting to adopt mobile to augment, compliment and improve the service they can provide. If you can’t beat em, join em!

One way to bridge the gap between the physical and mobile world is to use geofencing and beacons. In this blog article, we’ll explain what geofencing and beacons are and how we’ve seen them used in different sectors.


Think of geofencing like building a virtual garden fence around an area – this is called a geofence. It requires no additional hardware other than the location-aware iOS or Android mobile device your app is installed on.


Beacons are Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) hardware devices that transmit their presence via one of two protocols to any bluetooth enabled mobile devices in proximity. While the exact range of beacons will depend on a number of factors such as the quality of the bluetooth antenna and surrounding objects, ranges of 70m are quoted.


So with all of that in mind, lets look at a few examples of how Geofencing and Beacons have been put to good use in different sectors.

Food – Targeted Advertising

Brands like McDonalds have had great success integrating iBeacons into their restaurants for context targeted advertising. By adding a beacon into the restaurant where customers queue for food, they have beee able to increase sales by offering promotions and special offers and reduce bounce rate during busy periods. The conversion rate of these offers is higher as a customer has already demonstrated an interest by entering the restaurant.

This could be complimented by adding a geofence with a range of 20m (for example) from the entrance to encourage other customers who are passing by (i.e. who already have the app) into the restaurant. However, with this type of campaign you need to consider at what time of day this is more likely to be effective and how often to notify a user

Geofencing and Beacons - ActionsIf a potential customer walks past the store as part of their commute to work, they are unlikely to be receptive to two notifications a day.

Retail – Customer Assistance

The last twelve months have been extremely challenging for the retail sector with several well known names closing down and disappearing from our high streets, shopping malls and out-of-town retail parks. Perhaps none more notably than Toys-R-Us which filed for bankruptcy after more than six decades of trading.

Since their launch, there have been numerous ventures integrating beacons into the retail experience – we have already covered targeted advertising in our previous example, in this example we’re going to look at empowering staff to better assist customers whether in a BestBuy or a car dealership.

Customers in-store will be using your app (and others) on their phones while they shop to check prices and read reviews. If sales staff continue to work exactly as they always have done, the customer will likely have more information than the staff if they are having to rely only on their personal knowledge of what is on sale and what is in stock never mind who the customer is, what they have bought previously and what similar customers have gone onto purchase as well or instead.

By fitting beacons around a store, for example in the electronics isle or around specific high-value products, staff can be notified when specific customers are in proximity to specific products. Amazon knows who its customers are and what they are interested in buying – why shouldn’t everyone!?

The goal is to increase engagement with high-value customers who are likely to buy from the moment they enter the store by, for example, using any prior data we have on their sales preferences or how often they have visited a specific section or product.

When they approach a specific product stand, for example that shiny new iMac, we can provide a shop assistant with all the relevant finance options available and answers to any other common questions other buyers have had. The shop assistant could even take payment or make the purchase on behalf of the customer without needing to go to a checkout. This will help creates a far more appealing customer experience that will be essential if large retailers are to survive.

Museums – Guided Tour

Although the idea of a multimedia tour around a museum and its exhibits is nothing new, the user experience can be much improved by allowing users to use their own mobile device and by automatically detecting exhibits that they are close to.

A geofence around the museum can be used to detect that a customer has entered and trigger a notification to remind them that the app can provide them a guided tour. When they open the app and it is in foreground, the app can use ranging to detect all beacons in proximity.

When our user is in proximity of one or more exhibits we can present them a quick preview list of all these exhibits. The user can simply choose which exhibit they are most interested by walking towards it. When the app detects they are in closer proximity to that exhibit, it can then load a more detailed view and begin the audio commentary. As they walk away again we can stop the commentary and go back to the preview.

None of this is necessarily providing new features or capabilities to our user, but the experience of using the app is now more streamlined and naturally linked to their location and context compared to selecting from layers of menus.

Events – Catering

In the use cases we have discussed so far, the beacons are stationary while our users and their mobiles move around them. However, in the context of an event, in anything from a football game to a broadway show our users will be stationary once they are in their seats.

In this scenario it is ice cream sellers and hotdog vendors who are moving around the theatre or stadium. If we attach a beacon to the vendor then we can notify our users when they are within proximity, hopefully right at the range where they can smell those dogs!

We can now provide special offers in a similar way to the McDonald’s restaurant above, but we can also use this as part of the workflow for the vendor so they can start preparing the order if a customer opens the notification. So, notifying potential customers that the vendor is in proximity will hopefully drive sales and reduce the wait time after ordering.

We can also use stationary beacons to track the vendors movement around the event and use this to provide real-time data in the app, for example distance of nearest vendor and probable time until they will be in proximity again.


Geofencing and beacons are not new – Apple quietly unveiled support for the iBeacon protocol in iOS7 at WWDC 2013, but we are now starting to see geofencing and beacons be put to good use across a variety of sectors such as restaurants, retail and events to increase sales and provide a better customer experience. Over the coming years it is likely that use cases in other sectors such as fleet management or asset tracking will emerge - and of course more in the financial sector.


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