Above: Greg Dixon of ScanSource with a beacon used to send marketing messages to mobile devices.
If you walk by Greenville Jerky & Vine at the corner of Main Street and McBee Avenue with the right app on your smartphone, you may hear the store “talking” to you.
A message could appear on your smartphone about a special offer for jerky or wine, or about gourmet food available for sampling.
The downtown Greenville store is one of the first local businesses to test so-called “location-based technology” for marketing.
The messages are sent by a “beacon,” a battery-powered device the size of a matchbox that’s installed on a windowsill and uses Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate.
The messages are received by passersby who have downloaded the iOnGreenville app on their smartphones. That app is provided by BizzApps, a local mobile application development firm.
Geralyn Trellue, owner of Greenville Jerky & Vine, said she decided to try the technology about three years ago, thinking it could boost business from the tech-savvy millennial generation.
As it turns out, she hasn’t seen much impact.
“We have had a few customers reference the beacon for the offer, but I think many of our customers do not have the app,” Trellue said.
Retailers such as drug chain Rite Aid have deployed beacons in an effort to give their brick-and-mortar stores the ad-targeting capabilities of e-commerce.
Through beacons, retail chains can learn which stores shoppers frequent the most, and which departments within the stores, according to Pulsate, a mobile marketing firm with offices in San Francisco.
Armed with that information, retailers can tailor marketing messages, such as coupons, to individual shoppers, sending them to apps on their smartphones or having them appear as the shopper signs onto the retailer’s e-commerce website.
Beacons are also being used by arenas, airports, schools, trade shows and museums, including the Children’s Museum of the Upstate, and health care providers, including Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, though not always for marketing.
Although marketers were optimistic when Apple introduced its iBeacon technology in 2013 — followed in 2015 by Google’s Eddystone — the technology is still finding its footing in the marketplace. It’s likely here to stay in one form or the other, however, according to Greg Dixon, chief technology officer for ScanSource, a Greenville-based distributor of high-tech products.
Dixon said ScanSource resells beacon systems designed for retailers and made by Aruba Networks and Zebra Technologies, but so far, “I doubt we’ve ever sold enough to even register.”
One reason the technology hasn’t been more widely adopted, he said, is because so far no one has set technical standards that every manufacturer adheres to.
Yet Dixon believes the future potential of beacons is enormous because their emergence heralds the arrival of a revolutionary megatrend, the Internet of Things.
That term refers to the idea of equipping everyday objects with the ability to sense aspects of their environment and communicate the information wirelessly. Those objects could include not just computers and smartphones but vehicles, buildings, stores, factory machinery — virtually anything.
Beacons are “the initial wave before the tsunami,” Dixon said. “The Internet of Things can and will be a really big thing.”
At the Children’s Museum of the Upstate, 10 beacons costing $40 each have been placed in the largest and most popular exhibits in order to provide a new interactive experience.
Museumgoers with the iOnGreenville app receive recommendations about age-appropriate activities they can do at each exhibit. The messages pop up on their mobile devices as they move within the range of each beacon.
The added element of interactivity is sponsored by Greenville First Steps, a nonprofit organization supporting programs that help children get ready for school.
Nancy Halverson, the museum’s president and CEO, said the beacons are a “great technology and one more way to communicate in a meaningful way with our guests.”
“The process was very easy, and the technology is very intuitive,” she said.
Bon Secours St. Francis Health System recently installed beacons in waiting rooms at more than 40 primary care practices across the Upstate.
Patients with the iOnGreenville app get a message as they enter the waiting room asking them to sign up for MyChart, an online system with which they can review medications and lab results, request appointments and communicate with physicians.
“In the future, we envision utilizing the beacons to deliver information such as shot reminders, new provider alerts, survey requests and more,” said Matt Green, the health system’s administrative director of ambulatory informatics.
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