Location-based marketing looks set to explode in the coming years, as a new survey reveals almost three-quarters of retail industry executives plan to invest in beacons by 2021.
Combining the benefits of digital with the physical shopping experience is becoming increasingly important, and retailers believe beacons are the key. The study, conducted by Research Now and Qualtrics for Zebra Technologies, surveyed 1,700 executives from multiple retail segments.
According to the results, retailers seem to be interested in real-time tracking of both inventory throughout the entire supply-chain and their customers while in-store. 72% of executives said they plan to use sensors, analytics and automation to get real-time product visibility in their supply chain, while 75% plan to tailor the in-store experience to individual customers.
Beacon technology with mesh networks
With this expected increase in the adoption of beacon technology for retail, the savvy IoT businessperson should look for options to add value to beacon-based retail systems. The increasing popularity of mesh networks seems an area ripe for innovation.
Mesh networks allow different types of devices to piggyback off each other as nodes in a network, with each node spreading the signal a little further than the last. Although mesh is not in itself power-efficient, it does allow messages to propagate through a network by being passed on from node to node, thus extending communication range without ever-increasing transmission power per node. It also allows finding new routes for messaging, in case a node is taken out of service for some reason.
Deploying nodes in halls and stairways enables connections to be made through walls and between floors, which could otherwise be challenging with technologies based on Ultra-low power 2.4GHz wireless.
Retail applications for mesh networks
Opportunities for mesh in retail include the ability to host one central configuration of all beacons in a shopping mall, with the easy identification and re-routing around any broken nodes. Assuming a safe protocol, it could be used to configure automatic lights adjustments with manual overrides, and for access control with smart door locks.
But it’s the tracking capabilities of a meshed beacon network that seems likely to be most attractive to retail executives given the survey results. With the right implementation and software solutions, they will be able to track an individual shopper’s needs and habits to provide special offers and a better service. Shopping mall managers could also offer their tenants more flexibility, with the option for temporary beacon zones for displays and seasonal campaigns.
The interoperability issue
The main players in the mesh space are Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-wave and Thread, an initiative by Google and Nest for a resilient, scalable wireless mesh protocol, carried on IEEE 802.15.4 at 2.4GHz.
Although all these competing companies support mesh networking, they speak different languages. Compare this to making a telephone call to China. There’s no technical issue preventing your call from being connected, but without speaking Chinese, the purpose of the call is unlikely to succeed.
For mesh to really take off in retail, interoperability must somehow be ensured.