15 Ways Small Businesses Can Use Beacons and Geofencing to Attract and Retain Customers

15 Ways Small Businesses Can Use Location Based Marketing to Attract and Retain Customers

Deloitte’s annual consumer shopping survey revealed that 2016 would be the year when more consumers planned to shop online for holiday gifts than ever before. It also found shoppers anticipated spending just as much online as they did in stores.

Those predictions came true, at least where Amazon is concerned. The online retail shopping behemoth said it shipped more than one billion items worldwide this holiday season — its best-ever, reported Reuters.

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That begs the question: What can brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly independently-owned small businesses, do to combat the trend toward online sales? How do they get a bigger slice of the retail sales pie?

One answer lies in location based marketing using beacon and geofencing technologies.

An Introduction to Location Based Marketing

Beacon and Geofencing Basics

Beacons are small, Bluetooth-enabled devices that attach to a wall or counter top inside a store. They detect a human’s presence through the person’s smartphone and then deliver contextually-relevant information, such as deals, special offers and personalized shopping suggestions.

Geofences do much the same thing but use GPS or RFID technology to widen the geographic range and go beyond the store’s interior. Both are touch points designed to drive customer loyalty and in-store sales.

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Since customers are already on their phones searching for information about the products you sell, it makes sense to engage them directly, providing access to the data quicker and easier. (These technologies also keep your store from becoming an Amazon showroom!)

Large retailers have been using beacons and geofences for some time, but smaller businesses are also adopting the technology.

The cost is negligible. Many beacon units are available for under $20. You will need a software platform to manage the messaging but that, too, can be relatively inexpensive.

If beacon and geofencing technology piques your interest, take a look at these 15 ways to use it in your store or place of business.

Location Marketing Ideas

1. Greet Customers When They Walk in the Door

In retail stores, it’s often the case that no one knows a shopper is there until she makes a purchase. As such, the clerk only greets the customer when she is leaving.

Beacons turn that on its head by sharing a virtual greeting the moment the customer crosses the threshold. In addition to a welcome, the store can present customers with special offers or shopping suggestions suited to their tastes.

2. Create a Beacon-enabled App

Many beacon hardware and software vendors can build an app for retailers cost-effectively. For instance, one company, Bkon, creates beacon-enabled apps for as little as $1,000. Another, Purple Deck, does so for a few hundred.

There are several advantages to having an app: Among other things, it records a customer’s purchase behavior, enabling more personalized shopping recommendations, monitors wish lists and tracks activity within the store. Retailers can also use the data acquired to grow email lists and retarget digital display ads online.

3. Use Third-party Apps

David Heinzinger, vice president of communications for inMarket, a beacon provider, who spoke with Small Business Trends by phone, said that there is a misconception that retailers have to have their own app.

“Retailers use of beacons does not have to revolve around their app,” he said. “Instead, they can rely on third-party apps that support the technology, such as Epicurious, List Ease, Coupon Sherpa or even Google’s Chrome browser, which includes a notifications feature.”

Apple has its own technology, iBeacon, that alerts an iPhone or iPad when the device is in a location near a beacon. Facebook also offers beacon technology, for use with its mobile app. Another app, Shopkick, comes with a proprietary beacon network of its own.

4. Provide Content that Helps Shoppers

“One benefit of beacons is to help shoppers do what they came in to do,” said Richard Graves, CEO of Bkon, a manufacturer of beacons and cloud-based management software. speaking with Small Business Trends via phone. “Retailers can provide customer reviews, offer a deal of the day, discount coupons or an online scratch-off card.”

5. Reward Customers with Loyalty Points

Retailers can use beacons to gift shoppers with loyalty program award points based on purchase behavior or even for entering the store.

6. Tap to Text the Owner, Manager

Beacons can include a feature that lets customers tap to text the business owner or store manager with questions and comments. It’s a customer service feature that helps to close the sale.

7. Change Content Frequently

Update content on a routine basis using the beacon’s messaging platform, to keep the information being pushed to customers fresh.

8. Keep Track of Customers

Use beacons to track individual phone signals as customers move through the store. This lets you know which paths they take the most, what parts of the store they visit frequently and how much time they spend in a given area. The devices can also help customers navigate around the store, to find products more easily.

9. Link to Online Content

“Beacons can broadcast content that performs any function the retailer deems beneficial,” Graves said. “That could include a tap to like on Facebook, post an image to Instagram or link to the business’s website.”

He added: “These are microsites that you build that are directly accessible by customers. The sky is the limit as to what you can do.”

10. Put Beacons in Other Locations

“You can put beacons at locations apart from the store,” Graves said. “For example, a retailer could put a beacon on signs it has in the community and turn it into a smart sign.”

11. Get Brands to Cover Costs, Run Program

Beacons present an excellent opportunity to let brands carried in the store pay for the program and host the content.

“Just tell them you’re going to put in a beacon and let them control the content or promotion,” Graves said. “There’s a lot of interest from brands who want to manage relationships with consumers directly.”

12. Geofence Around Competitors

Use geofencing to circle a radius around a competitor’s address. When prospective customers travel within the radius, the system sends an automatic notification to their phone containing a promotion or other relevant content.

13. Interact with Specific Products

Beacons can act as hotspots, letting customers interact with a product placed on a particular shelf. As the person moves through the store, different products appear. The retailer can also include other messages, to provide context.

For instance, a winery could share information about specific wines located in a particular part of the store as well as what foods to pair with them.

14. Use Beacons and Geofencing at Events

Businesses that sponsor or host events can place beacons throughout the venue (or geofence the area around the event) to draw attention to entertainment options, food and craft vendors or VIP areas, and keep attendees updated with activities taking place at the event.

15. Partner with Other Businesses

Companies can use geofencing to partner with other relevant local businesses and profit-share any sales that come in through the system. For instance, a restaurant could partner with a delivery service or a wedding planner, to provide catering opportunities.


The use of beacon and geofencing technology is one way smaller retail businesses can combat encroachment from eCommerce brands like Amazon and provide a personalized shopping experience that customers will appreciate.

It is also a means to drive footfall, build loyalty and engage customers in real-time when purchase intent is at its highest.

Commute Photo via Shutterstock 3 Comments ▼

Paul Chaney Paul Chaney is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He covers industry news, including interviews with executives and industry leaders about the products, services and trends affecting small businesses, drawing on his 20 years of marketing knowledge. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.

3 Reactions
  1. This is definitely an interesting idea. I have to say that geofencing is a new concept for me. I did not know that you can use them in that way in a small business.

  2. Great read! There are many proximity platform providers but only a few do actually provide essential features like ready to use mobile app with loyalty campaigns, geofencing, qr codes and digital signage. I suggest you do your own research in this regard or simply try Bleesk.com – a complete iBeacon & Eddystone platform.

  3. I suggest you do your own research in this regard or simply try Bleesk.com – a complete iBeacon & Eddystone platform. I have to say that geofencing is a new concept for me. I did not know that you can use them in that way in a small business. Thanks a lot dear sir for helping me to gather tehse marketing based geofencing.