Why Beacons Are Inevitable For Vending

If you’ve been diligently reading about the technological advances in Automatic Merchandiser, then you already know how beacons work. Dr. Michael Kasavana wrote about them as location-based promotions in his series on V-Engineering. Specifically, today’s beacons are a piece of hardware that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit small amounts of data for about 50 meters. It only transmits, like a lighthouse emitting light, and needs a receiving device to pick up the broadcast (usually a mobile device). In this industry I think there’s even more of a likelihood beacons will be the next big thing thanks to micro markets.

Beacons in retail

I was just visiting a large micro market operator when he mentioned the idea of beacons and I quickly saw the future he suggested. A world where the micro market reaches out to you via your mobile device.

The kiosk of a micro market already does so much – it’s really what drives interaction with the customer. It’s so much more than just a scanner and payment acceptor. The way it captures information about the user, flashes promotions and even holds security data makes it the brain of the micro market. It’s a brain that is continuing to evolve, and that evolution could, and will likely lead to beacons.

Already stores are using this technology. There was an article in PYMNTS about how more stores, the latest being Target, have started incorporating these devices to push out deals and promotions to shoppers.

For a specific example, I’ll pick on Apple since it’s very well-known for its beacon technology. Back in late 2013, Apple turned on its iBeacons feature, which works in tandem with the Apple Store app. In short, the app enters “in-store mode” when an iphone customer enters an Apple Store. It might present you a message about the product you are standing near or automatically load your order number as you walk to the clerk for a pickup.

Beacons make sense for the industry

Whenever technology initiates the contact, many people squirm. However, I’m not talking about should versus could, I’m just talking about the technology and how it will impact our businesses.  Imagine you are a hungry customer and you have a great micro market in your breakroom. That’s of course where you head. Maybe you have a snack in mind, but really you are just hungry. You get close to the market, maybe you’re scanning the snack shelves and “ding”….you check your phone and see you just received a text with a code for a buy one, get one deal for a salty snack. That flavor was one you were already considering (and have already bought a few times), so the deal pushes you over the edge and you purchase two, plus a drink to go with it. You feel like you’ve gotten a good price, a BOGO deal, and walk away satisfied.

This scenario shows how a beacon can be perceived as a benefit, not an intrusion. This is the best way for beacon technology to enhance the customer experience by promoting an item the customer was already considering or has already tried (and liked). It’s a way to drive impulse sales and increase the average transaction amount without added shelf space or product that may go stale. If the products are also part of a manufacturer promotion, the operator isn’t even out any money. Beacons make sense for the future of vending because it uses technology to make unattended retail better…which is what the first vending machines did, the first bill validators and the first micro markets. Therefore, it’s a logical progression.