There’s a lot of talk about how iBeacons will revolutionize indoor location – how they’ll allow for incredibly precise context-aware content and notifications inside your apps.
But one point we’ve not seen many talking about is their effect on showrooming.
Showrooming, according to Wikipedia, is “the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick and mortar retail store without purchasing it, but then shopping online to find a lower price for the same item.”
The Amazon app is the perfect example of this. Kick open the app in store, scan a barcode, see if the product is cheaper on Amazon, buy it on your phone, then have it on your doorstep in two days.
Showrooming is making it difficult for brick and mortar retailers to compete with online merchants, especially considering the tax advantages to selling online.
But, imagine how the problem could be exasperated in an iBeacon-saturated world, where every aisle is broadcasting its identity to your apps.
What if Amazon rolled out a small update tonight that added a simple unnoticeable feature to their existing app? Imagine it just did one thing: every time someone scans a barcode with the Amazon app, the app records the list of iBeacons that are broadcasting in the area and reports home to Amazon for data collection.
Imagine the massive database of information Amazon could compile that ties specific product UPCs to individual aisles in retail stores. What would the repercussion be?
Well, imagine that Amazon makes another update to their app in a year or so once iBeacons become more common.
Now, whenever you stand in an iBeacon-enabled store aisle, the Amazon app automatically displays a list of products in your area with their prices on Amazon, enticing you to buy. You don’t even need to scan a barcode. It conveniently knows what’s around you, and possibly even price-matches products based on what previous customers may have reported in that aisle.
Furthermore, what if Amazon could upsell you on a product with a push notification? They already know what your interests are and have perfected the art of recommending products to you, so what if you got a push notification walking past the electronics aisle for that digital camera you’ve been considering. “Canon EOS Rebel T3i nearby if you’d like to try it in person.” Amazon could tell you to go look at it, to try it out, then buy it online, cheaper, with a tap in their application.
iBeacons are an incredible idea, but they carry with them an uncomfortable truth brands will have to face: They can dramatically improve your customer experience, but your brand has no control over how the technology gets used by others.
It’s a possibility that showrooming will only worsen, even when brands suppose they are making it easier for their customers to find and buy the products they want in store.