New technology is changing the way convenience stores do business. But what does it all mean?
By Erin Del Conte, Executive Editor
As technology evolves c-store retailers are hearing terms like beacon technology, GPS and geofencing. But what are they and how are they different? And, more importantly, how can they help your c-store business?
Most people are familiar with GPS technology, as it’s commonly used to give people driving directions to an unfamiliar location, or to track the distance of a walk or run.
GPS stands for ‘Global Positioning System’ and it uses satellites to pinpoint an object geographically, such as being able to tell how far your car is from your home, or where your GPS-enabled watch is on the running path.
Because it uses satellites, GPS works well outside, but, it doesn’t work as well indoors. And, it can be unreliable if clouds or other obstacles obstruct the signal to the satellite, or if there are no satellites nearby. That’s why if you’re driving through the mountains your GPS connection might suddenly disappear, then reappear later when you’re back on a main road.
Geofencing uses GPS or RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)to pinpoint objects or people in a geographical boundary/area. Imagine tracing a box or ‘fence’ around your store that spans two miles (or another distance) in every direction, and being aware of when people or objects cross that perimeter.
Some c-stores use geofencing to identify when a customer with their mobile app is within a certain distance from their store—such as two miles—and then targets them with a coupon (geotargeting).
Geofencing used to identify customers in this way relies on GPS to detect where that customer is located and when they’re a specific distance from the store.
Geofencing can also use RFID, which uses physical RFID tags and radio waves to identify people and objects in space. It’s often used as a tracking solution for inventory control. For example, if a pack of cigarettes with an RFID tag is being removed from the property, geofencing can alert you.
But RFID doesn’t work with mobile phones, so when we’re talking about geofencing as a way to identify when customers with your mobile app cross into a two-mile radius of your store, we’re referring to geofencing that uses GPS technology.
So where do beacons fit in?
Where geofencing uses GPS or RFID technology, beacon technology relies on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit information.
Like in the example above, beacon technology can also be used to send a message to a customer’s mobile app. But first, the customer with your mobile app will also need to have Bluetooth turned on /enabled on their phone to be detected by the beacon. Geofencing through GPS can find the customer as long as they are logged into their downloaded app.
Instead of identifying when the customer enters a set distance from the store, the beacon will detect the customer when they are in proximity to the beacon—like when they arrive on the forecourt or when they walk into the store.
Because beacon technology works via Bluetooth, beacons can work well inside as well as outside.