How Can Location-Based Alerts Improve the Shopping Experience?

Five years ago, wireless access was a nice to have item within organizations. Wireless LANs (WLANs) were deployed for basic data access, but weren’t strategic. Today, consumers and employees have high expectations for connectivity as they embrace smartphones, tablets, and wearables. Ubiquitous, fast, and reliable wireless coverage is table stakes.

But wireless technologies are quickly becoming a competitive advantage. Organizations such as retailers are starting to use wireless services to deliver personalized and contextual services that I call right-time experiences.

These experiences provide the right content, to the right person, at the right time, on their device of choice. To do this, organizations are evaluating wireless location technologies such as Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to enable location-based services for customer care, engagement, and commerce. Each of these technologies offers merits and challenges.

For example, GPS is an excellent way of defining location when the user is outside, but has limited effectiveness indoors. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi triangulation and beacon technology perform well indoors. Beacons provide more granular proximity, sensing people within distances of under a meter. However, beacons require consumers to have an application downloaded that speaks to the beacon and to have Bluetooth turned on. Not all users will want to download an app.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi indoor location isn’t as accurate (+/- 15 meters) as beacons, but more users will associate to the Wi-Fi for Internet access. Together Wi-Fi and beacons provide a comprehensive indoor location solution to support contextual services. But Wi-Fi can be used on a standalone basis when granular location isn’t needed or the user doesn’t want to download an application.

At a minimum, a Wi-Fi infrastructure is the gateway to providing content and services to employees and customers. Wi-Fi can capture basic information, such as entering the building, from every user that has Wi-Fi turned on and has associated at least once with the Wi-Fi network. It can also trigger a notification when the user associates with the access point (AP).

However, companies don’t have to choose between Wi-Fi and beacons. Many contextual solutions will combine BLE beacon and Wi-Fi to provide comprehensive engagement throughout a physical location. In fact, Wireless LAN vendors are working with beacon companies to integrate management of beacons into the overall Wi-Fi management suite.

Who’s using beacons? 

Retailers are using Wi-Fi, beacons and mobile devices to change the customer experience with mobile point-of-sale and clientele apps to enable information access, such as inventory data and previous customer purchases.

Wi-Fi also provides the foundation for contextual marketing where companies can send promotions, such as coupons and additional product information based on where you are within the store. Additionally, retailers have used Wi-Fi and electronic shelf labels to provide up to the minute pricing and flash sales.

These types of dynamic services are key to increasing share of wallet and increasing basket size.

In another example, Stadiums are using Wi-Fi to create the next-generation fan experience. Game attendees want to send text messages and share photos and video clips with friends and other fans, but poor quality wireless is a common complaint within the stadium. Stadiums that embrace wireless and mobile apps are providing new experiences such as allowing fans to buy food and merchandise from their seats and providing directions to the rest room with the shortest lines.

For their part, airlines are evaluating how beacons and WiFi technology could be used to track the movement of passenger and goods to enhance the travel experience. For example, the airline can be alerted if a traveler is in the airport security line, and estimate if they’ll make it to the plane or if the person’s itinerary will need to be rerouted.

 Other use cases could include helping a parent find a lost child, locating aircraft parts, and ensuring baggage makes it to the right person at the right time. 

Once thought of as an expensive add-on service for hotels and conventions centers, Wi-Fi and mobile notifications and apps  are providing resort and convention visitors with access to the information they need such as wayfinding, last minute promotions for entertainment venues, and restaurant recommendations based on availability and wait times.

Next-generation Wireless LANs are becoming a critical component of contextual services. Beacons and mobile apps can also enhance these services but aren’t required to get started. Companies should look for Wi-Fi solutions that offer high-speed data, reliable connectivity, scalability, and simplified management. The good news: Flexible and reliable solutions wireless solutions can be implemented today. 

What kind of new experiences would you build with wireless? Send a tweet to @MaribelLopez .


Maribel Lopez is Principal & Founder of research firm Lopez Research, which provides research, analysis, and strategic insight to the communications industry. Prior to founding Lopez Research, Maribel was an analyst for more than 10 years at Forrester Research, most recently as Vice President of the tech industry strategies group.

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