Do Beacons Sit On Shaky Ground?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the only Internet connections possible were through landlines and modems. Now, Wi-Fi is so ubiquitous that it’s only at the front of people’s minds when it stops working. However, even as New York City starts to install some of the country’s first public Wi-Fi hotspots, retailers invested in the future of beacons should draw lessons from an ongoing hurdle in Wi-Fi proliferation: channel interference.

Mashable explained that as brands continue to eagerly await the explosion of beacons across multiple verticals, there may be a snake hiding in the weeds as far as network performance is concerned. Not only does GPS accuracy significantly degrade for consumer electronics when the user is indoors, but as dozens of consumers pass through the same aisle at once, there’s the chance of signal interference as well as a sheer lack of processing power to manage all the time-sensitive interactions necessary to push a shopper toward the right purchase at the right time.

Rather than some techno-babble, there’s a clear precedent for emerging technologies jamming their own networks through sheer force of numbers. PC World explained that since Wi-Fi has become a nearly uniform home good, most people have simply plugged their routers in and clicked some setup buttons to put their routers onto the crowded 2.4GHz band.

“I always describe it as a three-lane road that’s really, really busy,” Nandan Kalle, networking business unit manager for router designer Belkin, told PC World of the most commonly used Wi-Fi band’s speed capabilities.

While the danger of congested Wi-Fi networks to home Internet use is just longer load times and slow, yet eventual downloads, a loss of just seconds can mean the difference between a successfully converted sale and a missed opportunity. Making sure the right customers receive the right alerts or deal notifications at precisely the right times — as they enter an aisle, as they pass by a storefront, when they linger in front of a product for a certain period of time — is of primary importance to good consumer experiences with beacons. If these opportunities are missed, there’s a good chance that shoppers will get used to swiping late notifications away or worse, deleting retailers’ apps altogether.

More than just signal interference, fast and accurate location data also faces problems when it comes to how the data is analyzed. According to a report from MMA Global, many location data companies employ a strategy known as centroid processing, where users’ zip codes and states are used to approximate the most likely target areas based on averages in user data. However, these results are merely proxies and estimates for real-time information. As more retailers hop on the beacon bandwagon and customers opt into their experiences, those averages will become more diffuse and exponentially more difficult to accurately predict.

Joe Laszlo, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, told Mashable that beacon implementers need to be skeptical of where their data is coming from.

“You really need to trust your counterpart and know where they’re getting their location data from,” Laszlo said. “In a completely open, no holds-barred environment, the inventory could be coming from anywhere and the buyer could be anybody. There’s already some cynicism on the part of buyers as far as whether location data are accurate.”

Beacons have never enjoyed the smooth or sudden adoption curve of other emerging technologies despite its potential, but that may be for the best. After all, if the platform explodes before brands have the infrastructure in place to make sure shoppers aren’t turned off by poor experiences, beacons may not get another chance.


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