Indoor ‘Beacons’ May Soon Provide Shoppers With an Intuitive, Handsfree Experience

Picture this: walking through a store your phone buzzes, reminding you that your favorite ice cream is on sale in the next aisle.

By installing simple devices called “Beacons” inside their stores, retailers can push information to shoppers instantaneously, drawing their attention to specific items they’ve purchased in the past, or new merchandise they’ve recently sought out online.

Paypal boasts: “Plug it into a wall socket or a laptop, and PayPal Beacon sends out a Bluetooth low energy signal to anyone with the PayPal app.” The small device has retailers buzzing about the future of in-store marketing. (Credit

The beacons are smaller than a purse or tablet, and can be mounted on a wall or other flat surface. The low-cost technology takes advantage of low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to wireless device, Business Insider reports.

Retailers are moving fast to implement this emerging technology, which can also streamline the checkout process. Several companies have seized on this concept; Apple’s iBeacon is already built into their iOS7 operating system, but the company has not released a physical beacon for stores. PayPal and Qualcomm are also gearing up to provide their own hardware solution for streamlining the data push/pull process with users who opt to use the applications.

Beacons can push product and sale information to shoppers when they enter the store, and then check out customers automatically using the retailers’ application. (Credit

A company called Shopkick created the first Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based presence signal at any major retailer and recently deployed their new technology – called shopBeacon -at Macy’s Herald Square, New York and Union Square, San Francisco, according to their site:

ShopBeacon can welcome a shopper when she enters a store and show her location-specific deals, discounts, recommendations, and rewards, without her having to remember to open the app. It can also tie at-home browsing to in-store benefit -if she “likes” a specific product in the app, shopBeacon can remind her when she enters the store that sells it. It can also deliver department-specific offers throughout the store – so the boots she liked show up at the most useful time – in the Shoe department.

GPS Shopper is another example of beacon technology – and shoppers don’t need to open the app to get the messages. “Beacons can be used for entry/exit messaging, cash-wrap notifications, in-aisle promotional targeting … Shoppers can receive instant information on their phones related to their favorite products, tailored promotions and immediate customer support,” according to the GPS Shopper site.

Companies embracing the beacon technology boast more security and more convenience for shoppers, but any transmission of account data via electronic means opens users up to fraud, as Target recently learned.

Here’s the PayPal video explaining how the company hopes users will interact with the beacon application and technology.

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.