October 17, 2013, 5:04 PM

GPShopper embraces new beacon Bluetooth technology

The m-commerce app and site builder enables in-store hyperlocal mobile messaging.

Lead Photo

A depiction of the kind of message a retailer could send to a consumer through GPShopper's Beacons feature for smartphone apps. Hyperlocal in-store messages are sent via Bluetooth Low Energy wireless technology.

When Apple Inc. debuted its new iOS 7 mobile operating system in June, it began pushing into the mobile realm a new wireless networking technology, beacons, that could have a big impact on mobile commerce. PayPal, eBay Inc.'s payments arm, was quick to adopt the technology with a new app feature, PayPal Beacon, that enables consumers with the PayPal app on their smartphones to pay for purchases hands-free, without even taking their phones from their pockets. Beacon technology is available on iPhone 4s and above with iOS 7 and smartphones running Android 4.2 and above.

Now, mobile commerce app and site builder GPShopper has unveiled Beacons, an in-store hyperlocal mobile messaging and customer tracking feature available for retailers with apps built by GPShopper and for retailers with apps built by others or in-house. Beacons can be used to sense when a consumer with a retailer's app on her smartphone enters a store, a department, or even an aisle, and send her messages via the app that contain special offers or marketing content. It also allows the retailer to track her movements through the store, providing new data on store shoppers.

The retailer's app does not need to be open for beacon technology to work. GPShopper's Beacons works with any beacon compliant with Apple's iBeacon standards.

The key to the GPShopper app Beacons is the latest in wireless technology, Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE. Bluetooth enables devices of any sort, from smartphones to stereo components, to communicate wirelessly at a close range. A retailer plugs beacons, small wireless sensors, into wall outlets around a store; the beacons facilitate Bluetooth communication between a mobile commerce or marketing system and smartphones.

BLE enables mobile devices to operate with Bluetooth networking always turned on without the technology consuming a lot of power from the battery. Of special note is the fact that Beacons can function without a connection to a cellular phone network, as all the data transfer happens via BLE.

Bluetooth typically is off by default on most smartphones and tablets, in part because it consumes so much power. However, BLE can be found on iPhones (on the iPhone 4s and above) and many Android smartphones. Consumers can leave it on all the time so it can detect such things as beacons and whatever new services and offers developers and retailers dream up. Consumers are prompted by their mobile operating systems to select whether they want to turn beacons on. GPShopper won't reveal exact numbers, but says in beta tests with a handful of retailers, the majority of in-store smartphone shoppers have beacons turned on.

"A store might include a welcome message with a coupon offer via a beacon by the door and then use another beacon by the jeans section to prompt users to see a fashion video, or a beacon by the cashier to prompt a user to join a loyalty program and receive points for a purchase," says Alex Muller, CEO of GPShopper. "Beyond being able to manage the messaging by location within a store, a retailer can also set store-specific messaging, so, for example, a beacon at the entrance of the New York SoHo store can broadcast a different promotion from the beacon in the Miami store."

Or, Muller adds, beacons can also be in “reporting only” mode where they do not broadcast messages; instead, they track visits through specific store sections allowing for more detailed analytics on floor traffic to various sections of the store. "Beacons represents the continued in-roads that mobile is making into cross-channel and in-store sales," he says.

GPShopper can integrate Beacons into its app clients' applications. For retailers that already have a mobile application, GPShopper has an SDK (software development kit) for iPhone and Android applications to allow brands to take advantage of the Beacons management system and reporting in their existing applications.

GPShopper declines to reveal exact costs for its Beacons feature. "For a retailer already using our platform with a GPShopper-built app, the beacon solution is just an incremental cost based on the number of beacons they are using in-store," Muller says. "For a retailer just implementing our SDK, they would be charged a monthly platform fee, which covers the usage of our mobile content management tool and reporting system for the beacons, in addition to the incremental cost of the beacons themselves."

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