Come see Qualcomm Gimbal Beacon technology at Gilbarco’s NACS booth!
Bluetooth® 4.0 or Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) has been in the news a lot recently, what with Apple’s quiet disclosure of the iBeacon feature within iOS7, PayPal’s forthcoming Beacon product announcement and a string of start-ups with websites describing related products that are on their drawing boards and in some cases their 3D printers. Some have called BLE a game changer, the last nail in the coffin of NFC, others see it as another fad, designed to confuse an already overwhelmed CIO.
We see BLE as an exciting technology that if used properly can add to the consumer’s mobile shopping experience; and drive some of the key metrics merchants care about, basket size and loyalty, by enabling a new form of proximity payments and triggering mobile apps to display offers based on where customers are within the store.
Before getting started on the impact of BLE on the business of upselling from forecourt sales to the C-Store, its worth a few words on why someone from a mobile technology firm like Qualcomm® is guesting on Gilbarco’s blog, and what that says about the forces at work in retail
Mobile is changing retail and, retail is changing the mobile technology in your phone. Anyone who has observed the stock price of major electronics retailers whose businesses has been impacted by smartphone-wielding consumers trying goods out, price checking competitor prices and then buying on-line can testify to the truth of the first statement. Give some thought to the role of the secure element, and NFC chips for in-store payments and (almost) getting back to the point of this article, Bluetooth 4.0, and you start to appreciate how retail is changing mobile.
Following that logic it becomes more obvious why Qualcomm, the largest provider of semiconductors for mobile devices and GVR would work together. If your mission is to get more mobile technology into the hands of consumers, what better vertical to focus on than petroleum retail, a segment that reaches most Americans every week. Given that focus, what better company to work with than the one whose pumps dominate that market, with PoS technology and digital media distribution and upsell technology that has the potential to be joined up in “the internet of everything”.
BLE and the C-Store … but first what’s BLE?
Most people associate Bluetooth with many unhappy hours, searching for lost instruction manuals, trying to pair their old headset with their new phone. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is not that. A new Bluetooth standard 4.0 was agreed on in 2010, this includes the “Classic” pairing applications along with a host of new Profiles that share the same radio frequency as the prior standard but support different use-cases that don’t require pairing and can be as much as ten times more energy efficient. The Proximity Profile uses signal strength to approximate how close two BLE devices are. In a retail context this could be a consumer’s phone and a new piece of hardware, the BLE Beacon. These beacons can be relatively low cost, Qualcomm Retail Solutions offers Gimbal Beacons for $10-$40 depending on the model. The ways that these beacons can be used are many and various, to be frank we think of new applications every day. The proximity that they detect complements where traditional technologies such as GPS stop working well. Traditional location services that use GPS (satellites) and Assisted GPS (satellites and cell towers) tend to become less reliable, in urban environments (has your mapping application ever put the dot in the wrong city block in New York City?). With GPS, indoor location tracking is also problematic. Your driving direction app has the advantage of assuming the car you are driving is on the road, rather than in the middle of a building so it can make some informed guesses as to where the blue dot is that are not feasible in other applications. Hopefully you plugged your phone into the power while you are using it for GPS navigation, because pushing the boundaries of accuracy with GPS is expensive in terms of battery consumption. That kind of battery consumption may be acceptable for a street finder application, but if a retailer wants to add triggers to their app to invite a customer to come in from the forecourt to the C-Store, the kind of drain on the battery required would likely be troublesome to the consumer and would likely cause them to uninstall the retailer’s app, effectively cutting the communications cord before the retailer had a chance to benefit from any upselling.
This is not a manifesto against GPS, in fact our Gimbal SDK leverages GPS, A-GPS, WiFi and BLE for its location services and proximity. Think of a set of concentric circles where these different technologies all have a role to play.
Another characteristic of BLE is that it also can be used by applications that run in background mode started once, maybe days ago. The consumer may have exited the app from their perspective but the application gets to run in background. From there, BLE can trigger alerts that can be sent by the app when it detects a beacon from that background mode.
One beacon can trigger more than one action in a mobile app. A single beacon could trigger a retailer’s app to recognize a customer’s presence in-store, checking them in and presenting the customer with an offer and then recognize their position at the front of the checkout line closing the loop with the point-of-sale, to redeem the offer when checking out.
The check-in use case is applicable to any retailer who wants to understand who is in their store. Qualcomm implemented it within its own Uplinq™ developer conference app. As delegates entered breakout session rooms, their names and photos appeared in a list of participants for that session in the app, for networking purposes. If you go to www.uplinq.com and watch the keynote, you will not only see the announcement of Gilbarco’s work with the Gimbal BLE offering but also a demonstration of another set of BLE use cases for major sports stadiums.
As well as facilitating check-in and check-out, beacons can drive actions during the shopping experience to drive up basket size. One developer, Shoptouch, has added proximity recommendations so that at certain wine merchants deploying Gimbal BLE beacons in their store, users of their Blush mobile app receive recommendations for white wines in the white wine section and recommendations for reds when in that part of the store. This is a great use case. It seems so obvious that a mobile app used in-store should work this way.
We think the payment use case is one of the most powerful ones. Anything that can make payment more pleasant has to be a good thing. Think of the BLE beacon as playing a similar role as the QR code. It’s saying that “Parker Burke” is at store “#2872” in front of PoS terminal “#1”, so that a token for his payment credentials can be used to enable payment. Unlike a QR code, BLE can also help to detect other customers who may have the same retailer app on their phone are standing behind Parker and their approximate position in line, so that this solution, unlike a GPS enabled payment solution, can scale with multiple point of sale terminals and multiple merchants in the same vicinity. If we know Mr. Burke is in line, we can enable staff to greet him by name. We know people appreciate being treated as a valued regular customer, it also turns out that staff often enjoy that more personal connection with their customers. Everyone wins.
When we deployed BLE as an alternative to QR codes and passive NFC at a local café it became a referendum on those technologies, as customers could chose what to pay with. The result wasn’t even close. For every customer that chose NFC and QR codes combined, nine chose BLE. The reason was because the checkout experience was easier, no QR codes to scan or NCF sticker to tap. In the case of this small ticket sale the customer could keep their phone in their pocket. Not having to touch your mobile phone had an amazing effect on adoption of mobile payments. Within four weeks of the deployment 20% of total revenues were being driven by mobile. That’s twice the adoption we had hoped for and twice the current state of the art.
The other aspect to understanding where your customers are physically located in the retail environment is the level of analytics that are opened up. With a beacon at the forecourt and another in the C-Store, marketers can look at a sales funnel, the conversion rate, enticing customers to move from the pump to the store; add a few more beacons and you can see those that browsed in different areas and those that went to pay straight away, you can measure dwell time at the pump and in-line; the BLE beacon becomes “a digital cookie in the physical world” or in merchandizing speak “a digital end-cap in the physical world”.
With great power comes great responsibility, a responsibility to act in the interest of the consumer. Make no mistake understanding where a consumer spends their time is a privilege that will be removed if abused. We have taken that seriously, with a privacy architecture that is unusual and has earned TRUSTe certification, which is rare for products in this area. The foundation of this is for the most sensitive data that details the customer’s use of their phone to be kept on the phone not in the cloud. The key is for customers to be able to see, correct and control the sharing of that information held in their hand rather than on unidentified servers being used for who knows what. We have seen that customers are quite willing to share that information if they see value in what’s being offered.
Including BLE beacon support in a mobile app is relatively easy. Of course there are many topics to consider as you do that: personalization, privacy, security, certification, integration with geo-fencing, battery life vs. refresh rate, background detection vs. foreground, weather resistance and support for different mobile OSes. We have thought through those issues as we built our offering and believe that working with key members of the retail ecosystem, such as Gilbarco is the key to making new technologies like this digestible by merchants as simply as possible. App developers can judge for themselves. The Gimbal SDK is available for download at www.gimbal.com and you can request BLE beacons. They are provided in limited quantities for selected developers at no cost. At a time where there are more announcements about BLE than real products, Gimbal BLE beacons are in production now.
There are many other ways BLE beacons can be used: personalized digital signage can be very compelling and payment at the pump is a particularly interesting one, with the potential to change the experience on the forecourt. If you would like to see that in action, visit the Gilbarco stand at NACS this month, and you can decide for yourself if the user experience meets the hype and if BLE really is a disruptive technology.
These views are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer. Qualcomm is a Qualcomm is a trademark of Qualcomm Incorporated, registered in the United States and other countries. Uplinq is a trademark of Qualcomm Incorporated. All Qualcomm Incorporated trademarks are used with permission. Gimbal is a trademark of Qualcomm Retail Solutions, Inc., registered in the United States and other countries. Used with permission. The Bluetooth® word mark and logos are registered trademarks owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc. and any use of such marks by Qualcomm Retail Solutions, Inc. is under license. iBeacon is a trademark of Apple, Inc. Other products and brand names may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.