As ‘Beacon Mania’ Gains Momentum Is There Anything in It for SMBs?

I’ve done quite a few presentations about indoor location and beacons. Right now in this early stage of market development, beacons (including Apple’s iBeacon spec) seem very much directed toward enterprise use cases: retail, hospitality, sports franchises, airports and so on.

What’s the SMB angle? Is there one? I’m often asked. Yes indeed. There definitely is an SMB angle (or angles) for sure.

Beacons can be used to trigger in-store payments. They can also be used for loyalty and capturing or recording visits to the store. They can help provide customers with more information about products or services. They can generally enhance the in-store customer experience in several ways. And to some degree they can be used for online-to-offline attribution and analytics.

All these things (again to varying degrees) are being done with beacons at an enterprise level. If it can be done there it can also be done at an SMB level.

As with all things SMB, third parties will be critical. Third party providers and digital media channels such as local publishers, review sites, Google, Facebook, ReachLocal, Yodle, GoDaddy, Square, newspapers — all of these entities could install and help manage beacon-based programs in local stores and for local business owners.

Those beacons could then record store visits and do some or all of the things mentioned above.

For beacons to “work” there needs to be a corresponding app to receive or display the desired information (e.g., content, marketing message, welcome message). What SMB is going to be able to create a viable app that users download and maintain? Valid point.

However, users will have third party aggregator, directory, social, vertical and search apps on their phones: the Yelp app, the TripAdvisor app, Google, Facebook, MapQuest, etc. Those apps can potentially function as surrogates for dedicated SMB apps. Going out on a technical limb (I’m not a developer) a publisher app could offer the welcome message, the payments functionality, the loyalty recording, the coupons and the analytics discussed above.

Imagine how it would change the retention conversation if publisher or independent sales entity XYZ could show (or extrapolate/estimate) how many visits were happening weekly and monthly to the business owner locations. Even if those couldn’t be definitively tied to online or mobile ad exposures just the data about foot traffic and visits would be very powerful.

Publishers/channels can either work with companies such as Placed (which doesn’t rely on beacons) or capture store visits themselves using their apps. The YP app, for example, could provide some sort of check-in functionality using beacons that verifies in-store presence. That could be tied to a loyalty program or other incentive that would encourage people to opt-in and actively or passively “check in.”

That data could then be reported back to the business owner. There are many possibilities.

No one has yet really articulated or fully expressed the opportunity with beacons and indoor location for the SMB market. It’s something that’s inevitable and smart publishers/SMB-platform providers will want to start thinking about it now to get ahead of the curve and potential competition.

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