Moving Beyond Beacons, Where WiFi Plays a Role

- 18th May 2017

Contextual marketing has been a key ingredient for retail sales and visitor interaction. As far as sales history goes, if you know your customer, it gets easier to sell. Beacons — the low-powered radio signals equipped with low energy Bluetooth have been shifting gears of contextual marketing over the last few years. Top brands and businesses from retail to hotels to malls are leveraging this technology to deliver a blend of digital and physical experiences.


Beacons are so small that they can be attached to walls or countertops — strategic positions where radio signals can reach visitor’s phone devices in eyesight. Beacons are configured to send hardcoded signals, for which specific actions are defined to be performed by apps installed in the devices. For example, when a visitor is walking into a perimeter where Beacons are installed, an app can be opened and a welcome message can be displayed on the phone. Similarly, offers from particular points of the location, indoor navigation, can be pushed — making the interactions more contextual. For example, let’s say the visitor is walking inside a retail store. If the store has a discount on shirts, as the visitor walks near the shirt displayed aisle, the app can push discount of discount vouchers for shirts.

‘Digital store technology lets retailers maximize conversions and influences customers’ in-aisle purchase decisions after they check their smartphone for product information and pricing. Retailers continue to test technologies to enhance that experience, and — not surprisingly — not all will take off uniformly. For example, though beacon programs (powered by Bluetooth low energy [BLE]) were heralded in the past, only 14% of global mobile executives were either using or piloting them in 2015.’

Beacons are like FM radios. They can only send signals, they don’t have receptors to receive and decode these signals. The signal range is limited and can be obstructed by opaque objects in its path. Since the signal strength is strong, when the phones receive the signal, the phone device can measure the signal strength and identify the distance it is away from the Beacon. This makes indoor navigation, contextual marketing more interactive. Since GPS doesn’t work indoors, Beacon technology can be used for location identification inside buildings.

Interestingly, the technology comes with some limitations. Beacon devices are mostly powered by battery cells, and you’ll have to periodically check if they run out of battery. Beacon signals can trigger messages and notifications only if a native app is installed on the visitor’s phone. Moreover, Bluetooth has to be turned on in the phones to receive Beacon signals. Beacon signals can’t penetrate opaque objects also.

However, Wi-Fi technology can replicate the same features and can balance its limitations. An App doesn’t need to be installed, and it doesn’t work on Bluetooth technology. Only WiFi needs to be turned on, which in most phones already are these days. Custom messages and offers can be pushed across to a user connected to Wi-Fi, just like Beacons.

When a phone tries to connect to a public Wi-Fi, it opens the captive portal which is an HTML web page where name and contact details can be entered and terms and conditions of usage have to be confirmed by the user. After the information entered is captured in the database, it can be used for multichannel engagement. If an app is installed on the phone, using Wi-Fi, it can open the app on the phone and start interacting with the visitor.

Wi-Fi and Beacon technology not only enable interactions with visitors at a physical location, but they also collect useful data of visitors which was never tracked earlier. Basic information like frequency of customer visit or percentage of new walk-ins to more detailed data like a heat map can be tracked. Our product Proximity MX even lets you tag and categorize the different type of visitors, which helps marketers push specific offers to them while managing the captive portal and beacon configuration remotely. For example, from the data captured, one of our mall customers realized they have more women walk-in customers on weekdays in the evening. A boutique studio in the mall was able to engage with 55,000 unique visitors and drive in-store footfall after pushing offers to the women who were in the mall during that time.

Beacon technology has a better accuracy rate than Wi-Fi. They also have limitations in signal range and accessibility to devices, while Wi-Fi signal ranges can complement Beacon’s drawback like the necessity of installing a native App. A combination of Wifi, Beacon and a mobile app brings in the best of both worlds. More importantly, a tool that lets you understand your customers and lets you engage with them and gives you a full 360 view into the customer journey. Our location analytics and engagement tool, Proximity MX lets you do just that, more like magic than technology. If you want to learn more how Proximity MX can help you know, connect and engage your customers, click the below button to get a free demo of our tool.