The Physical Web Enabling Next Generation Experiences and Seamless Journeys

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Right after Apple revealed the support for iBeacons in iOS7, I together with a couple of colleagues identified a vital gap in all of the ideas on how the Beacon technology could be used. When everyone was talking about using Beacons as a communication device and a solution to create smarter wayfinding, we saw Beacons as a promising technology for customers to get access to service. Service provided by human beings.

Current status of the beacon technology
Now, some two years later where do we stand on the Beacon technology? We have together with clients around the world delivered solutions enabling their customers to check in to a physical location automatically using a mobile app and beacons. The technology works and it’s actually a bit cool when the phone awakes, greet you by name and ask you to check in for your appointment.

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The challenge with native apps
But we also see some challenges with the technology in regards to making it main stream; where the key issue is the need for a native app. A Nielsen analysis found that on average, U.S. smartphone users accessed 26.7 apps per month in the fourth quarter of 2014—a number that has remained relatively flat over the last two years. In addition to this over 70% of the total usage is coming from the top 200 apps. So, even if Apple is fantastic in creating ecosystems, in this context having hundred and thousands of service provides around the world in need for technology that empowers customers and staff, everyone using their own app to provide localized services is hard to see.

The arrival of something better?
With this in mind it’s not difficult to understand that I got quite excited when Google’s Scott Jenson some months ago revealed a project called The Physical Web to provide “interaction on demand” so that people can walk up and use any smart devices without the need for intervening mobile apps.

A mobile customer journey solution is the glue between the virtual and physical world empowering customers to act more freely, reserve a time with a service provider and understand where to get the fastest service. It allows for a seamless and efficient customer experience. It provides the means for a service provider to offer a personalized experience and to communicate with customers before they arrive to the physical location.

I firmly believe that people should be able to walk up to any smart device – in our world for example a self service kiosk, a digital signage screen, a meet and greeter with a tablet – and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.

Inspired by a Google use case and to demonstrate how easy it is to connect to a Qmatic Customer Journey Application I did this simple demo in my living room; having an Estimote beacon sending out a Qmatic URL using the Eddystone format. I used my iPhone to record the process – sorry about the blur 🙂



I am excited to see where this will take us. What do you think, Beacons, The Physical Web or other technologies – What’s around the corner in creating seamless customer journeys?

12 COMMENTS

  1. I agree the Eddystone profile, which requires no app for those using IOS, but does (at this moment in time) for Andriod, is a real game changer. Whilst some fear it might signal a demise in the use of apps, the platform can be used as a means to encourage app use. As I see it the biggest challenge to ensure full customer engagement is to make sure the content is personal, relevant and immediate.

  2. Clive, good comments. The Physical Web using Eddystone can certainly be used to promote, even to deep link into apps. Apps will certainly remain, but if truly immediate engagements should be created for everyone, everywhere – then apps seems, in my view, “to be in the way”.

  3. Thank you and yes, everything should just be a tap away. I welcome your thoughts on what you see as the secret to encouraging consumers to “tap”?

  4. The million dollar question:-) Since we allow people to virtually queue to remove time waste, I am pretty sure that that quite a few preople would tap to do something more productive with their time. Not relevant for all situations, but quite many. Its estimated that Americans alone spend in total 37 billions hrs in line – every year.

  5. Great article. Glad to see your excitement for the Physical Web.

    Have you checked out BKON and their PHY.net platform for cloud based management of Physical Web (Eddystone-URL) beacons? Each BKON beacon comes with a unique ID associated to PHY.net that allows the beacons destination URL to be controlled remotely.

  6. Nice article Sven.

    I see iBeacon and Physical Web implementations as having separate use cases, so I see less of the argument for Eddystone to be “something better”, rather than “something else/different”. There are a number of circumstances under which beacons can be an extremely valuable asset without a resulting user-experience (such as a push message response). On the other hand, Eddystone beacons and the Physical Web are entirely based around user initiated action. First, to find physical web devices in the near proximity, secondly to select them. The idea of “pushing” the physical web is not one that Google is pursuing and likely for good reason.

    The real take away that Clive hit on is “back to the basics” — you have to weigh heavily the balance that your beacon deployment is offering between something for the customer, and something for the service provider like a store. If the balance is so heavily weighted in one direction, no consumer will opt in. Better to err on the side of being overly beneficial to the customer, providing a rich magical experience rather than a lightweight low-value outcome (pushing coupons, I believe, falls here).

    The key is to not jump headfirst into any beacon deployment without really understanding both views, and ensuring that a positive user experience is paramount, because it will ultimately drive the success or failure of the effort. I touch on some of these points here:

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/alternate-paths-your-beacon-deployment-patrick-keane

    Kind regards,
    Patrick

  7. Patrick,

    totally agree with your comment that The Physical Web and iBeacons have different use cases. Where we come from having 2 billion people either using our virtual queue management or online scheduling solutions every year I focus on how we as patients, citizens and consumers can get faster service through our mobile devices.

    Being able to manage customer flows, allowing people to make appointments, to change appointments on the fly, to drop in, etc…..without spending precious time waiting in line through mobile phones on scale is not feasible with apps and iBeacons. Simply because we will never keep an app in our phone for every service situation. With the Physical web even a small retailer can buy one beacon and enable it to broadcast the possibility to get in a virtual line.

    If one of our clients already have a popular app (like for example many of our banking clients), then it makes more sense to use iBeacons and the existing app.

    My excitement with the Physical web lies in the fact that finally great time saving solutions like the ones my company represent can become ubiquitous. It’s about time, it’s estimated that Americans spend 37 billion hours waiting in line – every year.

    Take a look at this slideshare on some iBeacon scenarios: http://www.slideshare.net/Qmatic/retail-banmobile-and-beacon-concept-retail-banking

    //S-O

    PS…Great article on Linkedin 🙂

  8. A great piece Patrick. And I agree that there is a place for both ibeacon & the Physical Web. Like you, I feel the danger is that people will jump on the bandwagon and deploy beacons because its in vogue, and push low value content in order to make a quick killing. For those who take an real interest in the psychographic profile of their audience and offer meaningful and relevant content then the future will be a rewarding one.

  9. Sven,
    Your case for iBeacons seems logical at a first glance, but please take a step back: how will you manage any kind of beacon-enabled interaction on a massive scale? How will you manage hundreds of locations? (Look at the Starbucks app for example: on their beacon trial they could not tie orders to stock levels of participating locations so people were reportedly not getting their orders in some cases due to the café running out on some ingredient).
    Our belief is that the concept of the physical web is a much more lightweight approach and that ultimately will allow for more innovation than the traditional SDK+app developer approach.

  10. Ferenc, my point exactly 🙂

    We have several of clients that have seriously looked to iBeacon enable their stores but have taken a step back because the management and maintenance of the installed beacon base would become unmanageable. The cases we have live today are more with retail banks and smaller stores like wireless/telecom where you don’t need a massive amount of beacons. This is also where the service provider already have a popular app that is being used, thus making the context for what we do more logical.

    I too see more promise in the physical web for our customer journey management applications allowing beacons to be used on mass – with MANY service providers, rather than with many beacons at a few service providers.

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