Beacon Idea #5: Retail, Analysis, and Dynamics CRM

So if you have been reading my blog frequently over the past few months you will notice that I have been doing  lot of mobile-related development, mostly with the Xamarin platform (which I absolutely love, btw).

One of the projects that I’m working on will involve the use of beacon, or iBeacon, technology.  I thought I would spend a little time today discussing how you can unite beacons and Dynamics CRM to collect a variety of information about your prospects and customers.

A Bit about Beacons

iBeacon is Apple’s technology for indoor positioning, where you need a finer-grained position that can be achieved using GPS. Apple decided to make the iBeacon specification available to other vendors and companies like Qualcomm and Estimote have products that are iBeacon compatible.

There are alternative beacon technologies available that are not iBeacon compatible, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just refer to everything as a “beacon” to keep things generalized.

Beacons are just transmitters that broadcast their position using Bluetooth Low Entergy, or BLE.

The intelligence dealing with where the beacons are located and their distance from the receiver, must be handled within an application that has connected to a mobile device’s BLE signal.

Currently, late models of iPhone, Android, and even some Windows Phones are equipped with a BLE interface which will allow you to write applications that can search for an recognize beacons.

Again, the beacon just announces, “here I am” and the application on the mobile device does the real work of “seeing” the beacon and deciding upon the next course of action.

The Retail Connection

One of the most talked about areas for the use of beacons is in a retail environment – and the possibilities are truly endless. 

Here is a sample scenario:

Customer Visit Tracking

It is possible to install beacons various locations within a store and track the following:

  • When the customer entered or exited the store
  • The amount of time spent within the store
  • The departments visited
  • The amount of time spent within a department
  • Purchases

All of these data points are primarily centered around a customer having an application on their phone that can interact with the beacons and send the data back the the cloud-based collection system.

Data Analysis

The one thing you really need to be careful of when capturing beacon data is the amount of data produced. The data flow will dictate the design of your beacon data storage and what tools you use to perform the analysis.  There are several possibilities here:

  • Estimote has built-in analytics for their beacons
  • You can roll your own using Azure App Services to both record the data and perform analysis
  • Add it to your internal SQL Server data system and use tools such as PowerBI to perform the analysis

The Dynamics CRM Connection

Let me state right up front that Dynamics CRM is not where you put your beacon data. There will, in most cases, be too much data and there are better, faster, and cheaper alternatives for both the storing and analysis, like the ones mentioned above.

After you have collected the data and performed the analysis is when you connect it to Dynamics CRM.  The primary use of any Customer Relationship Management system is to record data about a customer:

  • When do they shop?
  • What do they like to buy?
  • Are they purchasing for them selves or a family member?
  • Do they have a brand-preference or a deal-preference?

Use your analysis tools to deliver that type of information by using data obtained from their purchase history, the beacon data, and your web site. That is how you can improve the interaction of your company with the customer.

Make sure your marketing department makes good use of this new data and delivers to the customer the types of offers that make sense to them.

The key point here is value. You need to constantly be providing value to the customer.  It is not always about you; and yes, you need to sell things to stay in business, but it is much easier to sell to people who want to buy.

The Big-Brother Creepiness Factor

This type of process is fairly high on the big-brother creepiness factor but is really saved by the fact that the customer has opted-in to this program by:

  1. Installing the application on their phone
  2. Setting their personal preferences to allow their activities to be tracked

Physical Retail vs. Online Retail

What is so very ironic about this entire conversation is that Online retailers already collect this type of data each and every time a customer visits their web site.  Some are much better than others, but they all do it to a certain extent.

Deploying a technology like beacons to a physical retail store gives that company the ability to collect, and hopefully use wisely, the same types of data that their web site produces.  When you combine those two sets of data together, you can generate a more complete picture of the customer.


All of these things we’ve discussed today are fairly easily done, just remember one extremely key point: Do not be a pest. 

One one likes a pest, either in the online or physical retail world.