Beacons: the smartphone owner is king

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Woman with smartphone in a store

Picture this: you walk into a bank branch and your phone starts to vibrate – it’s a message from your bank with the expected waiting time. You run a couple of errands to kill some time. There’s no need to queue up at the cash register, because an app on your phone automatically pays for your purchase when you leave the shop. Welcome to the world of beacons, the inevitable future.

The success of beacon applications depends entirely on user centricity. Stevenie Roseboom Stevenie Roseboom Communications Specialist, Innovation Centre

What are beacons?

Beacons are small, wireless devices that transmit Bluetooth signals. If your smartphone is within a 50-metre radius of a transmitter, you can receive information on your phone that is transmitted by that device. Beacons are currently widely used in the United States. For example, shop-owners use the technology to send consumers relevant offers when they enter the shop. Other sectors also see the opportunities presented by beacons. Service providers can use them to assist people; a museum, for instance, can send visitors information on the artwork they are viewing at any given moment.

A terminal full of beacons

The logistics sector has also discovered the world of beacons. Schiphol Airport recently equipped its terminal with almost two thousand beacons in order to improve digital services for visitors. The devices can be used to give directions to the gate or to automatically display the digital boarding pass on your smartphone when you approach a check-in counter. Shipping ports stand to gain a lot, too: installing beacons in containers can help prevent transport documents from being incorrectly completed elsewhere in the chain. This accelerates the control procedure.

Offline cookies

Beacon technology supplies data to the sender, such as: how much time does a specific customer spend in your shop? What department is he or she visiting? How long do customers spend standing in a queue? Beacons are referred to as the cookies of the offline world, as they measure behaviour and interest. This isn’t entirely true, though: you need a data connection in order to send or receive data.

So, are beacons simply yet another device in a long line of data collection applications? I don’t think so. I believe the power of beacons lies in the fact that they operate on a two-way street: both transmitter and receiver can benefit. You receive relevant information on your phone in exchange for giving your data. You are in control. Apps that search beacon signals may only use Bluetooth and notification functions with your permission. Plus you have to switch on the Bluetooth function on your phone, so beacons are not invisible. This differentiates them from passive tracking technology.

Beacons and the bank

The ABN AMRO Innovation Centre is exploring the potential uses of beacons. I believe this technology can help us improve our service to customers. Besides putting it to use at our bank branches, we can apply it in many other ways. A possible service is payments by smartphone. Who knows? The traditional bank card may soon be obsolete!

Other financial services providers have also sunk their teeth into developing this technology. PayPal will soon launch a hands-free payment app with which you give certain stores permission beforehand to deduct payment for your purchases and can shop without even having to take your phone out of your bag. Google and Apple are also exploring the possibilities of using beacons to make payments with smartphones.

User centricity

Beacons give the user information and, as such, can enhance the user-friendliness of banking. That sounds fantastic, but the caveat that applies to cookies is also true here: beacons add value only if they offer relevant information. That’s why the success of beacon applications depends entirely on user centricity. Make sure the user receives information on their phone that matches their needs. If you don’t, your beacon app will probably end up in the digital trash can, the user will switch off Bluetooth and you can kiss all of that valuable data goodbye.

Startup Friday @ World Port Days

Want to find out more about how beacon technology is being used? The ABN AMRO Innovation Centre organises Startup Fridays once a month. Startups have one hour to pitch their companies in relation to a certain theme. Personally, I think it’s great to see startups and bankers connect over a drink afterwards.

The September edition of Startup Friday is being organised in collaboration with the World Port Days and the Port of Rotterdam and is devoted to beacon technology. Sign up now (Dutch) – we just might meet each other on Friday 4 September.


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