How BLE Beacons Deliver on the Potential That QR Codes Promised

November 16, 2015
Romet Kallas
Account Executive

Despite the fast growing popularity of BLE beacons, there is still some hesitation around success and customer adoption of this technology. Jeanette Cajide raised a question in a recent post, asking if beacons are the QR codes of 2015? In this blog post we are discussing the similarities and differences between these two technologies and conclude on why BLE beacons are definitely not QR codes all over again.

Let’s start with the customer awareness

Around 2009/2010, marketers hoped that QR code was the technology to connect the online world to offline for the first time. Suddenly these black and white puzzle looking stickers started to appear everywhere and it seemed like an immediate success? Yet, research by Inc’s in 2012, merely two years after QR codes had been introduced, revealed that 97% of consumers did not know what a QR code was.

Marketers were so caught up with the new technology that they skipped the most important step, to educate the market.

Enter Beacon

BLE Beacons were introduced to the world in 2013 by Apple with the iBeacon protocol, followed by Google in 2014 with the Physical Web protocol and in July 2015 with the Eddystone. A study by Firstinsight in August 2015 states, that 30% of customers already know what beacons are. That is ten times higher compared to 3% awareness of QR codes within the same time frame.

Customer awareness left aside, QR codes fall short in another particular field which is data and context.

Namely QR codes just don’t have the ability to connect context to a certain location or leverage any other data that is vital for a personalized experience. Data from content management systems, point of sale and previous interactions is the key to relevance and this is where the BLE beacons shine.

OK, BLE beacons are good for data gathering, what about the customer adoption?

It has been argued that the majority of customers still don’t know how to interact with either QR codes nor beacons. That might be true and even if you know how to use a QR code, downloading an app and performing the cumbersome scanning process is just not something we would expect in this century. On the other hand, the beauty of beacons that transmit iBeacon UUID or Eddystone UID, is that you don’t actually need to physically interact with the beacon. When you have location services and bluetooth enabled on your phone, the interaction is potentially a seamless process. Meaning that you don’t have to do any extra leg work to receive a warm greeting, use indoor location, proximity payments or any other features.

But there is still too much friction around downloading an app

Yes, iBeacon and Eddystone-UID beacon as well as QR codes need an app and that might be seen as a challenge. Beacons are definitely not the magic solution for your app, if there is no value for the customer to begin with. We cannot stress this enough, that beacons are a tool, that enables an extra set of features to take the in-app experience to the next level. Whether it is to provide indoor navigation, real-time notifications, proximity payments or other features. When it comes to QR apps, there is typically little value outside the scanning feature itself.

Another route to avoid friction is to integrate beacon support into existing “super” apps that already have a very large audience base.

For example like Sensoro has partnered with WeChat, which has over 600 million active users or like ShopAdvisor and RetailMeNot, which have a 25 million user base combined, have partnered with Swirl.

What about The Physical Web?

Yes QR codes and URL beacons work on the same principle, they both serve an URL that the customer can interact with. Sounds like the same, right? In reality, there is a big difference. With the Physical Web you don’t have to find the actual sticker, saving you a lot of trouble. Also, the scanning process of a QR code is not a very private one in nature. When in proximity of a Physical Web beacon, you simply “pull” the link(s) broadcasted, there is no need for an extra app and nobody else needs to know what information are you interacting with. So interacting with URL beacons is a lot smoother and faster compared to QR codes. And with Google backin the Physical Web standard, you can expect even tighter integration with the operating system itself in the near future.

Enough theory, let’s talk results

There is not much recent information when it comes to results of a QR campaign, especially when it comes to ROI. But there are some: In 2012 L’Oreal ran a 5 days QR campaign where they experienced a 7% conversion rate. Also Verizon received an additional 35000$ in revenue from a QR campaign. While the beacon market is still young, there is already amazing results to show. Last week Elle Magazine reported that they drove 500 000 retail store visits with beacon technology. In July inMarket revealed that 3.4 million millennial moms are actively using beacon-enabled shopping apps and that their beacon platform results an average of 14% increase in basket size. In April 2015, Sensoro’s beacons generated more than $16 million to Chinese jewelry retailer Chow Tai Fook. For more successful beacon and proximity projects, check the use case section in Proxbook.

So are BLE beacons the QR codes of 2015?

QR codes simply don’t measure up to the abilities and results of beacons. But there are still important lessons that we can learn from the QR codes. First and foremost, how important it is to educate the market and when there is too much friction, consumers will not use the technology.

Beacons are the current key technology to connect location data with context, and it is quite clear they are here to stay. After all, beacon-triggered message is projected to generate over $44 billion by 2020. And of course results from existing projects already talk for themselves.

Who knows what will be the beacon of tomorrow? But I strongly believe that it will be built upon the foundation BLE beacons have already created. Seamless interactions, locational intelligence and leveraging versatile data sets.