We're well used to personalised digital experiences, but the adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy by the major smartphone manufacturers has the potential to bring personalisation to real world experiences.

This post examines how this will affect our in-store buying experiences.

For years now, we've delivered increasingly personalised experiences online, learning what people interact with and using that insight to drive what we show them in future.

In the digital world, that's pretty straightforward since there is an implicit mechanism by which we can capture all of a user's interactions.

Of course, that has led to services like 'My Amazon', where relevant products are recommended based on what Amazon knows about an individual user. Here are a few of its recommendations for me...

My Amazon recommendations

It seems that Amazon knows quite a lot about me: I have kids doing GCSEs, I like making music, I've been helping my seven-year-old make a model Saturn V rocket, and I'm a fan of Vangelis (how did Rick Astley get into my last.fm playlist?!?).

Personalisation in the real world

But bringing personalisation like this into the real world is slowly happening and one area that will be hotly competed for is that of traditional in-store, bricks and mortar commerce.

We're about to see our in-store experiences change forever.

In part, this is being enabled by the adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – a technology that can be used to detect proximity to real world objects. One of the things which is massively in BLE's favour is that it is built into the major mobile operating systems (both Android and iOS), and of course, we carry our mobiles with us everywhere.

BLE is destined to become the underlying technology that connects our real lives to our digital lives, which will ultimately lead to real world personalisation.

How will BLE change the in-store experience?

Imagine a bricks and mortar store that knows all about you.

It knows when you walk in the door and, via your mobile, can greet you accordingly ("Hi Anna, welcome back"). It knows where you are in the store ... so if you walk past the jeans, it'll know that and could give you a personalised offer for being a loyal customer ("Shopping for jeans today, Anna? Did you know there's 20% off Diesel Skinnies today?").

It reminds you to pick up the item that you liked online ("Don't forget those shoes you liked – they're on special offer today, just for you.").

Estimote beacon

BLE enables all of this. And it can do it now.

How does this real world personalisation work?

A BLE-enabled mobile can constantly listen out for other BLE devices nearby (such as the Estimote beacon stuck on the wall in the image above) and, when it detects one, can interact with that device to understand things like proximity and location.

In effect, the BLE device can trigger your mobile to do something (anything!) based on where you are. And it can do this proactively, without you having to do anything (unlike NFC, which requires you to physically move your mobile very close to an NFC tag).

Of course, once the BLE device triggers your mobile, the mobile can wake up the retailer's app that's installed on it, fetch details about you (e.g. your previous purchase behaviour, preferences, and so on) and deliver you a personalised message, offer, or whatever.

Last week, Macy's started a pilot to deliver this type of personalised in-store experience using Shopkick beacons and Apple's iBeacon BLE technology. Check it out in the video below.

An exciting future lies ahead

I believe this is just the start. Location context is just one dimension to our physical experience – what are the possibilities when the BLE devices can sense other things like temperature, light levels, or sound levels?

Integrating our digital lives with our real world context will enhance so many real-world experiences – exciting times lie ahead!

Matt Hardy

Published 2 December, 2013 by Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy is Joint MD & Digital Director at The Real Adventure and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)


Depesh Mandalia, CEO & Founder at SM Commerce

Good article Matt and an exciting potential next step for retail. There's huge potential for this from a commercial viewpoint, however the customer benefits need to be handled extremely well for it to take off...

over 4 years ago


Ian Atkinson

Great guide to our personalised future.

The Macy’s example feels very powerful; one of the features is that you can ‘like’ something when browsing online (which is appealing as it doesn’t feel like any sort of buying commitment). But then the app reminds you of your ‘like’ when you’re in store and shows you where the item is. Using psychological principles of consistency and commitment it’s gently nudging you along the ‘sales funnel’.

Whereas it often seems that clever uses of technology and targeting get creative short shrift: they come down to an age-old ‘XX% off’ offer.

And then they can become just another way for businesses to erode their margins. Which probably wouldn't have them doing cartwheels...

over 4 years ago

Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy, Joint MD & Digital Director at The Real Adventure

@Depesh Thanks. I completely agree - as with all advances in technology like this...just because we can doesn't mean to say we should! The important thing is to deliver valuable, meaningful services to shoppers that delight them. Retailers who get that right will definitely reap benefits.

@Ian Thanks. Yes, I like the 'like' reminders use case too. And you're right, just using this technology for offers is not necessarily right. It's the obvious use case, so it'll be interesting to see who differentiates by delivering added value services based on in-store geolocation. For example, if I'm hovering for a long time in the plumbing aisle of a DIY warehouse, why not use BLE to alert an in-store plumbing expert to come & help me? Ah, the possibilities...!

over 4 years ago

Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy, Joint MD & Digital Director at The Real Adventure

Interesting to see that Apple have just launched this technology in its stores in the US today.


over 4 years ago

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