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7 Myths And Misconceptions About Beacons

How costly are beacons, anyway? And are they really secure? We’ve got answers.

Three years have passed since the introduction of Apple’s iBeacon technology, and most marketers are certainly aware of beacons by now. But plenty of confusion persists, both within the industry and without. Below, myth-busting seven of the most common misconceptions about the proximity devices.

Beacons are collecting and tracking my info

Nope. Beacons simply broadcast a signal that can be picked up by a mobile app when a customer has Bluetooth turned on. Beacons allow mobile apps on both iOS and Android to “listen” for beacon signals in the physical world and then react accordingly.

For this communication to happen at all, users must opt-in on the app level to allow beacon interactions. If you don’t opt in, nothing happens; if you do, then it is possible for the beacon know location your device’s location within a finite area and send contextual messages.

In other words, beacons aren’t “watching” and recording your every move — and any communication they have with your device happens on an opt-in basis only.

Additionally, with beacons that broadcast URL’s directly to your phone — such is the case with Google’s Eddystone format — there is no trace of the interaction between the beacon and your device whatsoever.

Learn more about the basics of beacon communication, here.

Beacons are insecure when it comes to data breaches

While there hasn’t been a large-scale data breach involving beacons, multiple providers are already developing ways to make the emerging technology even more secure.

Proximity tech provider Kontakt.io has prepped a series of security features meant to protect the systems the sensors rely on from the most common forms of hacking. The company vowed in late 2015 that its latest beacons were resistant to all types of data breaches.

“Beacons are a fundamentally simple piece of technology: they’re little automated radios that broadcast a short-range signal that’s made up of a string of numbers and letters,” said Kontakt.io CEO Szymon Niemczura.

Read more about how Kontakt.io’s system purports to defend against piggybacking, cloning, hijacking, and cracking, here.

Beacons are costly to install and maintain

 Not quite: As an example, Kontakt.io’s Eddystone Beacon Platform offers three beacons for $60, and a full “development kit” from Estimote offers three proximity beacons and complete set-up package for $59.

Essentially, a retailer can pilot beacons in a store or stores for a very low cost — and then choose to grow from there or not. As far as maintenance, default battery life for most beacons is now in the range of three to five years.

Find our more about the pros and cons of choosing Eddystone versus iBeacon technology, here.

Beacon batteries have short life spans

This is another one that’s false across the board — beacons batteries have multi-year lifespans.

Beacons from Roximity have a battery life of up to five years. Estimote’s proximity beacon development kit boasts default batter life of three to five years. Swirl Networks claims its beacons can last six years on one charge. Most competitors fall into this range, meaning that beacons are not technologies that require month-to-month — or even year-to-year — battery replacements.

Beacons are only good for offers and discounts

 This misconception is grounded in the way beacons were commonly used in the early days of their development. Plenty of retailers used them to push out offers — running into the problem of annoying customers with too many “pesky” push notifications. Plus, it is true that the technology has its uses when it comes to offering shoppers a reward while they’re in a particular store section or department.

But real-time offers are far from the only way to use beacons. In fact, some of the biggest buzz around beacons in 2016 concerns their potential as a retargeting tool.

As we wrote in March, the idea of beacons as a platform for sending discounts to branded apps is also starting to fade when it comes to the main purpose for installing the Bluetooth-powered devices. The next phase of beacons’ role in the marketing spectrum is as a key touch point for retargeting shoppers who have opted in to receive those messages from a store’s branded app.

There is inherent value for marketers in using beacons to track and understand the shopper journey, whether it results in a purchase or not. As reported by Home Depot’s Erin Everhart at Napa Summit, retargeted search ads that include in-store visits see 10x more conversions on mobile.

Beacons have failed to gain traction

It’s a bit hard to claim that beacons haven’t gained traction when they’ve been deployed in thousands of stores across the U.S. by the likes of Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Rite Aid, Citibank, and more.

Consumer knowledge of beacons is still mired in misconceptions — hey, that’s why we made this list! But the Bluetooth devices’ popularity has soared since 2013, receiving an extra boost from the fact that Google has had skin in the game since its 2015 launch of Eddystone. With more and more retailers deploying the technology — and experimenting with more diverse use cases, as mentioned above — you can bet that beacons aren’t going anywhere.

Beacons are inaccurate

This is perhaps the toughest concern to address: What is inaccurate, anyway? Within a relatively small space — and for the purposes for which marketers typically use beacons — beacons are quite accurate. A store’s (or geographic area’s) footprint determines how many beacons should be deployed to produce accurate results, and beacon providers can help answer this for businesses considering an extensive rollout. Using multiple beacons and averaging the results provides a very accurate picture of distances.

For example, the release of Estimote’s indoor location SDK allowed for navigation with accuracy of about 1.5 meters in small locations. Within a 600 square meter building, a follow up test showed accuracy within 4 meters. Is this accurate enough to determine a customer’s relative position and movements within a store? Very much so.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of GeoMarketing.com. A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.