What are beacons and why you should use them? The truth about beacons.

If you’re not that familiar with beacons, you are probably wondering what they are and why you should use them. Let’s answer the most common questions around beacons.

  • What are beacons?
  • What are beacons used for?
  • How are they different from Geofencing, NFC, WiFi etc.?
  • Types of beacons
  • What can I track with beacons?
  • How much does a beacon cost?
  • Why should I use beacons?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the downfalls?
  • How can you get started with beacons?

What are beacons?

Beacon is a small bluetooth device that repeatedly transmits signals that other devices like your smartphone can see. Beacon broadcasts radio signal that is a combination of letters and numbers approximately every 1/10th of a second. All smartphones “see” beacons when they receive a signal, much like sailors see light from a lighthouse.

Beacons deliver campaigns, help navigate and collect customer data. Beacons are one of the best ways to establish connection with your customers in a physical world. They trigger and deliver proximity campaigns to a person's phone based on his/hers location. Beacons also enable to collect important data on customer behaviour and increase their engagement.

Beacon open

Beacons are simple devices. If you open one you will find it consists of three components: a CPU, radio and batteries. Beacons use small lithium batteries or run via connected power like USB. They come in all shapes and colors. Some beacons include accelerometers, temperature sensors or other unique add-ons.

What are beacons used for?

Location

Beacons help indicate where you are in a physical space with precision down to a few inches or centimeters - geofence is much less precise and does not work indoors.

Engagement

Beacons can trigger various events when used with a smartphone. You enter a room, lights turn on. You enter a shop, coupon is sent to your phone. The event that beacon triggers depends on your business case. Another great example are loyalty programs for customers - beacons help reward customers for purchases or even time spent in a venue.

Navigation

Beacons are great when it comes to locating people indoors and helping them find a way (locating a person indoors is not possible with traditional geofence technology). What Google Maps does for the outdoors, beacons can do for the indoors. They can tell you where you are and where you’re going in a museum, festival, or train station.

Analysis & Data Collection

With beacon accuracy you can gather more reliable information then from GPS or WiFi signals and learn how and where your customers are moving throughout your shop. Please note that beacons do not collect any data themselves, but with a use of beacons and proximity platforms like Bleesk, you can collect dozens of important metrics about your customers through an app. You can use this data to improve your product listings and in-store layout, refine your customer journey, tailor future marketing campaigns and boost your in-store conversions.

Asset & People Tracking

One of the beacons’ more practical use cases is something many of us would never have guessed. In manufacturing and transport, managers need to know exactly where goods are at any given time. By attaching beacons, they can always have that information.

Interaction

Whether it’s making sure patients don’t go in the wrong wing or alerting factory workers to dangerous changes, beacons can automatically send notifications (either to app users or property owners) about a safety issue. Beacons can also be paired with geofencing to add an extra layer to data security.

What are beacons

How are they different from Geofencing, NFC, WiFi etc.?

Beacons vs. Geofencing

The main difference between beacons and geofencing is that beacons use Bluetooth to communicate with a smartphone whereas geofencing uses GPS signals. GPS can have a big impact on the battery life of your customer’s mobile device as it requires satellites and cell phone towers in order to pinpoint exact location. Beacons are more precise compared to geofencing and work better indoors. Geofencing does not work indoors and usually works better for proximity marketing outdoor.

# Beacons Geofence
Battery Low consumption Moderate consumption
Range up to 70 meters (230 feet) no limit
Accuracy few centimeters 5 meters (16 feet)
Cost Low Low (no infrastructure)
Best For Indoor Campaigns, Loyalty, Indoor Location, Customer Analytics Outdoor Campaigns, Outdoor Location, Customer Analytics

Beacons vs. WiFi

Beacons and WiFi are similar to each other - beacons and WiFi routers send radio signals that are detected by a mobile device to locate or deliver a proximity campaign. There are however important differences. Beacons are significantly cheaper (from 1.00 USD / piece) than WiFi routers (15.00 USD / piece). On the other hand most venues (shops, offices, malls) already have at least one WiFi router therefore there is no setup cost involved. Because the price of beacon device is low, companies usually use more than one beacon in their venues so they provide a more accurate information of the customer location or deliver precise proximity marketing campaign. WiFi proximity marketing does not offer this kind of precision.

# Beacons WiFi
Battery Low consumption AC (does not work on battery)
Range up to 70 meters (230 feet) up to 100 meters (330 feet)
Accuracy few centimeters few meters
Cost Low High
Best For Indoor Campaigns, Loyalty, Customer Analytics, Indoor Location Indoor Campaigns, Loyalty, Basic Customer Analytics

Beacons vs. NFC

The main difference between beacons and NFC is that NFC does not require battery to operate. NFC tags are also significantly cheaper than beacon devices but provide limited information about customer behaviour and work only when tapped.

# Beacons NFC
Battery Low consumption No battery
Range up to 70 meters (230 feet) few centimeters
Accuracy few centimeters few centimeters
Cost Low cost Low cost
Best For Indoor Campaigns, Loyalty, Indoor Location, Customer Analytics Loyalty, Delivering information at a tap, Security Checkpoints

Types of beacons

There are multiple types of beacons that work best for specific use case. What you need to remember is that there are two bluetooth protocols that beacons use iBeacon and Eddystone and you should always buy beacons which support both.

Beacon types
  • Standard beacons (they broadcast iBeacon and Eddystone protocols and are the size of golf ball). They are most often used in retail, events and all sorts of navigation use cases.
  • Small beacons (very portable, they have the size of a credit card or a larger sticker). Stickers are most often used in retail - they are attached to products. Beacons that have a size of a credit card are often used for employee tracking purposes.
  • USB beacons (small, portable, quick to deploy). Often used in office environment.
  • Parent beacons (track other beacons, gather data and store it in cloud, and more). Those are also called "gateway" devices. They have the size of a larger smartphone, are usually fixed to a wall or a ceiling and communicate with smaller beacons as well as have WiFi connection for syncing purposes.
  • Special beacons, including devices resistant to exogenous factors (dust, water, shattering, antistatic and UV) and video beacons — USB beacons that are plugged into back of a screen to deliver visual information (for example, a user approaches a screen in a restaurant, and it displays personalised offers).

What can I track with beacons?

Beacons are the most robust tool when it comes to collecting data about customers. Connected with a mobile application they can provide large quantities of data:

  • Number of visitors
  • Number of new visitors
  • Number of returning visitors
  • How many times a campaign has been viewed
  • Conversion
  • Visitor location heatmaps
  • Visitor dwell time
  • Visitor age
  • Visitor gender
  • How visitors move
  • and more...

How much does a beacon cost?

Beacon price depends on quantity of your order as well as the brand and beacon type. You can buy a single beacon for even 2.50 USD from China. The average price on the market for beacon that supports both iBeacon and Eddystone is 25.00 USD though. If you want to order 200+ beacons you can expect to get a discount and pay around 15.00 USD per beacon.

The price varies based on the following factors:

  • The range of the beacons
  • Beacon type
  • Battery life
  • Environmental capabilities (Outdoor/Indoor)
Beacons

Please do make sure you buy beacons that are compatible with the multiple beacon protocols (iBeacon, AltBeacon and Eddystone). And if you choose battery powered beacons you will need to consider the cost of battery replacement. So I'd recommend looking at powered beacons so you eliminate maintenance costs.

Why should I use beacons?

There are multiple reasons why beacons have become one of the most popular solutions in proximity marketing. Because so many consumers have smartphones beacons are an excellent opportunity to connect and engage with them whenever they're within range of beacons. Marketers can track the movements of customers within a retail spot, measure how long they stay in a store and send targeted campaigns based on their location. Beacons are similar to the website tracking and analytics tools that companies use to monitor the journey that consumers take to reach a purchasing decision on ecommerce sites. This is one of the big reasons they have such an appeal for marketers.

What are the benefits?

  • Beacons have great price / value factor compared with other technologies.
  • They are easy to use and implement.
  • Beacons have multiple applications (engagement, navigation, analysis, etc.)
  • Enable to understand customers better by collecting customer behaviour data.
  • Enables to retarget customers after they walk away.
  • They work in multiple verticals (retail, education, culture, airports, events, offices, hotels etc.)

What are the downfalls?

People need to install an app to be able to experience proximity marketing with beacons. When beacons are not implemented correctly people can get easily annoyed by receiving too many push notifications and may even stop using the app. Most beacons are battery-powered, which may be a maintenance issue. You can get USB beacons instead but they need to have a power supply.

How can you get started with beacons?

Once you buy a beacon starter pack contact us and we will help you get started.