One thing that we’ve been seeing with our retail projects is that there are so many beacon and commerce possibilities that the industry has yet to shake out a premium model to be emulated. Each retailer has their own internal challenges and structures that requires a level of customization that is particular only to them. This affects how the customer engages with the retailer from everything to how mobile discounts are delivered and processed, to how a customer pays for the products or how they receive service after the sale.

Beacon and point of sale engagements are more art than science. Retailers are forced into having to come up with artistic solutions because of legacy inefficiencies or political boundaries or even an clear understanding of who their customer is. We saw proof of this during several SXSW panels we attended that were specifically targeted at beacons and retail. The problem with every panel was that they were all talking in generalities and not focusing on real world solutions. Beacons seem to be very much in the “science fair” category and not so much in the “if we invest X in beacons, we’ll generate a return of Y” category.

So we’d like to take some space here on our blog to highlight and show off innovative and successful beacon and point of sale solutions. As we get sales data, we’ll also share that information with our goal being to showcase how development investments convert into increased sales and operational savings. Our first example will be the recent beacon implementations rolled out to Apple Retail stores across the globe.

FIRST STEP, DOWNLOAD THE APP

To be able to experience any beacon or proximity based events with a retailer,you will have to download their app to your mobile device. Downloading the Apple Retail store app is easy and it allows you to look up Apple products and order them conveniently from your couch. If you are anywhere except a physical Apple Retail location, the app functions much like every other retail app. View products. Order and pay for products that you can pick up or have delivered to your house. It is when you step foot in an Apple Retail store that this app really shows off some of its best features.

ENTERING THE STORE

Once you enter the store, you are immediately notified with an alert welcoming you. You are then shown a screen of specific tasks you can do at this location. Getting customer support or a sales person to come and visit you is easy enough to do through the application. Because there is typically such a crowd in the Apple Store, the app makes it easy to get your place in line so someone can talk to you.

It is unclear what kind and where the beacons are located in an Apple Store. Our initial assumptions were that Apple partnered with one of the big boys like Qualcomm to use their Gimbal beacons in-store. But in our talks with helpful reps in the stores, it seems that Apple is using software running on the demo models on the showroom floor itself. So we have reason to believe that Apple is making select devices on the tables beacons across the store. We haven’t seen any documentation that tells us exactly what this particular software is, but it is relatively easy to have your own device be its own beacon.

THE DIY RETAIL EXPERIENCE

The most common self checkout installations have been in Wal-Mart and Home Depot. You can take your shopping cart, scan in all of the items yourself, make a payment and walk out of the door with minimal interaction from a cashier. You still have to use their large cashier machine and make sure you’ve accounted for everything by placing them on their weight sensitive bag table. What Apple has done with their self checkout is a light year ahead of this.

You first start by finding what products you want to purchase in the store. Right now Apple only allows this friction free shopping experience for their accessories and non-Apple products that are on the racks and sidewalls of the stores. You won’t be able to buy an iPad or new Mac with this same flow.

We selected an iPad Mini case  to purchase. The app itself shows you clear diagrammed instructions on how you can purchase a product.

Fire up the bar code scanner within the app. Apple refers to this functionality as “Easy Pay”. They are dead on with that name.

Scan in the product.

You’ll then be presented with your iTunes/App Store account information where you type in your password or allow the iPhone 5S to scan in your fingerprint.

A fraction of a second later, your order has been processed and you are now a proud owner of an iPad cover. Just that quick and just that simple. You can now just walk out the door without even putting the case in a bag.

The process couldn’t be more simple and is ideal for quick purchases. We are curious how they handle shrinkage or tracking that a customer actually did pay. We didn’t have anyone stop us in the store as we walked out with our new case. Definitely a training challenge for retailers in the future.

THE RESULTS

What Apple has done with their Easy Pay system represents the most friction free retail experience to date. The app welcomes me when I enter the store via beacons. I’m able to pull the product off the shelf, scan, pay and then immediately walk out the door. How much revenue do they generate with this flow? We will learn more after their quarterly results are released.

The good news is that Apple has already set the bar and implemented a far reaching “science fair” retail project that other retailers can learn from.

ADDITIONAL DATA

Here are some other sites that have gone in-depth with information about iBeacons and their future

Apple’s iBeacons explained: What it is and why it matters
http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/123730-apple-s-ibeacons-explained-what-i…

Will Apple’s iBeacon Change the Way We Shop?
http://mashable.com/2014/02/05/apple-ibeacon-shop/

Mobile real-world engagements still lacking despite beacons
http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/software-technology/17547.html

Apple Stores to implement iBeacon location technology to improve service, boost sales
http://9to5mac.com/2013/11/16/apple-stores-to-implement-ibeacon-location…

Beacons: how this new technology will change sales forever
http://realbusiness.co.uk/article/25461-beacons-how-this-new-technology-…