Using IoT beacons in retail and leisure

Eva Pascoe

Now that Christmas is over and the January sales are in full swing, Eva Pascoe, Head of Retail Futures at The Retail Practice, reveals how the Internet of Things can influence the way you shop.

My first experience of the Internet of Things was in Cambridge in 1994, just before I co-founded Cyberia, the world’s first cybercafé.

Researching all things related to cyber-coffee, I found out that the good people of Cambridge Computer Lab hooked up a camera to a coffee maker, saving the hassle of having to run three floors down just to find the coffee had run out. Thirsty geeks had just kicked off the Internet of Things!

Two decades later, the IoT has progressed from coffee to beer. SteadyServ is providing sensor-based information about beer keg stocks to beer distributors and pubs, to make sure that every drop of beer is utilised. My kind of tech!

Sensors are being used to notify you of retailers’ products, discounts and much more

Sensors are being used to notify you of retailers’ products, discounts and much more

Following on from that, Sensoro proximity beacon manufacturers from Bejing has recently been funded $10m by Nokia. This will help improve their installation of sensors in 17,000 restaurants in China and provide IoT networks for both consumer and B2B applications for the food sector.

One of their latest applications was a 15% discount off a ‘Suckling Pig’ Pizza topping, which whooshes to your smartphone via the Pizza Hut China app. To send alerts on offers, deliver discounted cinema tickets and competitions, 1,400 locations were equipped with Estimote beacons using iBeacon proximity protocol. Foodies are always on the lookout for exclusive dishes, so mobile notifications are making their way through pilots to reach the UK later this year.

If you are stuck in traffic in a cab, the Internet of Things may just be the way to beat the congestion blues. 20 minutes is the average length of a cab journey in London; enough time to check up on your Facebook and Twitter feed. As passengers are looking at their phones, cunning cabbies are looking to make a quick buck or two by installing a beacon in the cab that lets retailers send notifications to you while you are passing their shops. 4,000 taxis are now being equipped with Proxama beacons and Estimote hardware to help make your shopping experience more interactive.

Cinemas and taxis are now being equipped with sensors to send your smartphone alerts

Cinemas and taxis are now being equipped with sensors to send you smartphone alerts

Not to be outdone by the cabbies, Norwegian cinema owners CAPA rolled out proximity beacons to 110 cinemas for use during the busy Christmas period. Smartphone users with the VG app received an offer of a free Coca-Cola drink as well as discounted tickets. This enabled Coca-Cola to understand their customers and also provide something valuable for them in return.

Nevertheless, not everything is great in the land of the Internet of Things. Following the Volkswagen admission of inserting sensors to reduce pollution readings, the Internet of Things has been called into question.

Can we trust manufacturers, technology providers and startups to use the Internet of Things honestly and responsibly? If that Cambridge coffee machine was showing a phoney photo, rather than a real quality update on the state of the notorious coffee pot, the IoT would have never left their cosy lab. The ethics surrounding IoT are challenging for everyone in the technical community. Let’s make companies and individuals use the IoT to provide honest, true data. Power to the sensors!

Eva Pascoe is Head of Retail Futures at The Retail Practice. You can follow her on Twitter @EvaPascoe. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult.

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