Retailers have begun to clue in on how powerful iBeacon could be. Shopkick, a privately held app maker that partners with major U.S. retailers like Best Buy (BBY) and Target (TGT), has just begun trials of its new shopBeacon iBeacon transmitter in several Macy’s (M) locations. Each $40 shopBeacon transmitter is small enough to stick on a shelf or wall, has a five-year battery life and is range adjustable from 3 feet to 100 feet.
Combined with the shopKick app (which has 6 million users), Macy’s iBeacon program will alert shoppers of offers as they approach product displays, remind them of loyalty reward points and even notify them when they’re near an item that they’ve previously “liked” online. The system also works with Android devices that support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).
Major League Baseball was an early iBeacon adopter, using the technology together with its smartphone app to track fans at New York Mets ball games, pushing coupons to regular visitors along with useful information like a map showing where their seats are located. It’s expected to officially launch in 2014.
With news of an upcoming iBeacon rollout in Apple Stores, expect other retailers to sit up and take notice. Apple has been ahead of the curve in retail for years and when a company outperforms everyone else by a two-to-one margin, everyone else watches closely. The use of iBeacons is expected to enhance the Apple Store’s shopping experience. Naturally, Apple is hoping that iBeacons will boost sales too, by broadcasting targeted special offers. There is also potential to incorporate iBeacon technology into wireless payment.
If the Macy’s experiment is a success, Shopkick is looking to roll out iBeacon technology nationwide and expand it to other partner retailers. That alone is going to push iBeacon adoption. But with Apple’s ability to leverage its Apple Stores to showcase the technology, iBeacon might just be the stealth iOS 7 feature that helps boost AAPL.
How? The company doesn’t charge for iBeacon licensing, but its iPhones — which offer native iBeacon support — could become even more desirable if bargain shopping consumers learn to love those coupons and special sale prices that get blasted their way. If iBeacons measurably boost sales, Apple could be in a position to start charging a small transaction fee on iBeacon-generated sales (at least those that involve an iPhone), opening up an all new revenue stream.
And if retail and consumer acceptance of iBeacon opens a door to wireless payment — competing with NFC technology — Apple could be in the position to take a cut of that too.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.