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How Bluetooth LE is improving brick-and-mortar retail for consumers and stores

Couple shopping with Bluetooth LEBluetooth LE solutions are already increasing convenience and creating value for retailers and consumers alike. However, low power, short-range wireless tech is still only scratching the surface of the multitrillion-dollar global retail industry.

Despite the enormous impact of Covid-19 on bricks-and-mortar stores, retail, in general, seems to be in rude health. The global retail market is expected to grow from almost $20.3tr in 2020 to over $22.4tr in 2021 (at a CAGR of 10.5 percent). In 2025 the growth continues to $29.3tr(at a CAGR of seven percent). These are findings from Research and Markets' Retail Global Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery to 2030.

Bluetooth LE drives positive disruption

Retail’s resilience is supported in part by wireless technology. The sector has adopted location services applications, IoT sensors, smart lighting, and more, providing noticeable benefits:

  • More informative and engaging customer experiences
  • Adapt sales and marketing strategies around real-time consumer information and detailed analytics (rather than by formulating these by educated guesswork alone)
  • Provide in-demand items without delay
  • Improve the value of transaction and ID processes
  • Ensure indoor retail spaces are comfortable, convenient to navigate, and safe in the post-pandemic era.

Wireless connectivity can also support numerous other applications in the retail industry, such as predictive equipment maintenance, monitoring the quantity and condition of available stock, and even warehouse automation and product pricing optimization based on live demand.

Read more: How IoT-enabled predictive maintenance can support smart city infrastructure

A powerhouse protocol for POS

But it is when it’s time to pay that wireless connectivity becomes most apparent. For streamlined POS interactions, Bluetooth LE is popular for efficient contactless payments because it enables, for example, mobile POS (mPOS) terminals to communicate reliably, securely, and with low power consumption leveraging the merchant smartphone or tablet as a 'virtual cashier.'

While Near Field Communication was once the natural choice for credit/debit card payments, new payment methods (for example, peer-to-peer transfers) require higher throughput protocols to exchange more information between smartphones and POS systems. Bluetooth LE is the obvious choice because of its interoperability with smartphones, seamless integration, and bidirectional data exchange capabilities.

The USB-powered Blippit app terminal is an example that uses Nordic nRF52840 SoC-enabled low latency Bluetooth LE connectivity. It supports tap-and-go payment plus coupon/gift-card redemption functionality. Consumers use a smartphone app linked to a retailer’s POS system, including a cash register.

The beverage sector pours into data

Beyond payments, wireless connectivity is helping the draft beverage industry, brewers, distributors, and retailers fine-tune their business model by tapping into consumer-purchasing behavior data. For example, TappTek’s smart tap solution and subscription-based retail analytics platform fits any draft beverage tap handle. It monitors its activity and provides detailed information and insights such as start/stop times for pouring a beer and volume dispensed.

The sensor data is sent directly over the Nordic-powered wireless link to a user’s smartphone, allowing a sales representative or venue manager to view consumption information through an associated iOS app.

Beyond the analytics, TappTek can also be used as a beacon to engage consumers with contextual information and promotional deals for a product at the point of retail.

Locations services lead the way

TappTek represents one end of the scale for customer engagement, but more sophisticated wireless-enabled business models appear. Retailers are introducing advanced location services and proximity applications to improve in-store customer experiences and increase sales. For example, Bluetooth Direction Finding can direct consumers to specific items inside a large store.

One application helping retail stores gain in-depth insights into their customer's behavior and movement is the BlueIOT. This high-precision Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) direction system designed for indoor use in supermarkets, exhibitions, or warehouses employs Nordic-powered tags placed in key locations throughout a facility or attached to items such as goods and shopping carts. It enables customers and staff to navigate their way to a specified location or item via a partner app on their smartphone.

Read more: Finding your way with Bluetooth

Safety first

Getting shoppers back into shops is one thing. Keeping them safe is quite another – especially in the aftermath of a pandemic. It is now essential for shops and restaurants to ensure they’re adhering to stringent hygiene standards. Immediately replenishing empty anti-bacterial gel and hand soap dispensers and monitoring foot traffic through the store is vital. As is knowing how many people have used the restrooms.

Bluetooth LE wireless sensor solutions allow management to seamlessly track all these parameters and temperature, humidity, and air quality—and customer activities in real-time and react accordingly to keep the store sanitized and comfortable. Nordic's Bluetooth LE implementations support these multiple requirements by enabling multilink use cases with up to 20 concurrent device connections to a single gateway.

As the retail industry bounces back into the new world, Bluetooth LE solutions will increasingly provide retailers with valuable information, insights, and functionality to engage customers and boost the bottom line.


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