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A beacon of opportunity

Unni Peroth’s company Bfonics uses beacon technology to provide relevant information based on the user’s location

The struggle of trying to decipher announcements of ongoing offers made over the P.A. system at large stores has long been a part of shopping. A trip to the mall looking for the latest deals requires sharp, ever-roving eyes and constant attention, quite unlike everything else in life, which technology has simplified. But it was only a matter of time before someone came along with a mobile-based solution for this problem, and it is exactly this that entrepreneur Unni Peroth and his company Bfonics are attempting to solve. How do they go about it – beacon technology.

The idea is a simple one, a small device that uses Bluetooth or WiFi identifies nearby mobile phones and allows store owners to send out notifications about ongoing deals and offers. Unlike GPS, this technology allows accurate location tracking within buildings, so you can even see relevant data for the products in the supermarket aisle you are currently in.

Unni, who hails from Manjeri in Malappuram and is currently based in Arkansas in the U.S., says he saw the potential of such proximity-based marketing in early 2013 and wanted to bring the technology to India and other countries. “I started Bfonics in late 2014, along with my partners Arun Raj, Binoy Mathew and Romy Mathew. We’ve introduced what we call the Bfonics Proximity-Based Marketing Platform, which can be put to use for retailers, hotels, restaurants, events, theaters, airports, public transport and so on.”

The 37-year-old goes on to explain that the company has already partnered with hyper-local commerce portals like AaramShop in India, and with movie theatres in Malaysia, casinos and airlines in Philippines and the Haywards Area Historical Society in the U.S. Bfonics is also in talks with Kochi-based businesses and expects to launch services here soon.

Going by the wide spread of partners, merely pushing offer notifications cannot be the beacons only purpose? Unni confirms this as he lists out a few real-world usage scenarios.

“For example, I may be shopping for a pair of shoes and I could get an update that there is a discount available. By integrating with large stores that have customer data already available, they can push details according to previous purchase history of customers. It can even push links to an interesting article while you are waiting in line at the supermarket. Restaurants can identify a loyal customer when he/she arrives and provide personalised service, the added accuracy of tracking through beacon can allow for indoor navigation in large buildings, and also for stores to see accurate maps of the sections that attract most customers.”

While all this can be enhanced by existing data of customer buying or browsing patterns, Unni insists that the beacons do not retrieve or store any personal information from the mobile devices they communicate with.

Despite its versatility, the increasing pull of online shopping would be expected to dilute the impact of beacon technology somewhat, but Unni remains undeterred. “It is true that e-commerce and shopping from home has increased. But shopping from the store is still true in many cases and the actual experience cannot be provided by online stores. 2016 will see various retailers utilising mobile devices inside their stores to increase shopping experience. Researchers say that there will be 4.5 million active beacons by 2018 and more than 70% businesses track customers’ buying patterns and are looking at means to get customer data and analytics. The technology looks to enhance the way people shop and is not restricted to shopping or retail.”

As co-founder of LenDen, a portal for exchange or sale of used items locally and Your Seeder, an early stage seed funding organisation that helps innovative businesses, he is well placed to comment on the rapidly growing Indian startup scene, and the outlook is positive.

“It is exciting to see that the youngsters are ready to take up the risk of starting up and creating innovative products and solutions. We have already seen a lot of such companies come up from our own Kochi. The attitude of the society towards entrepreneurs is also changing. Latest government initiatives also add on to the overall startup ecosystem that nurtures such bright startups to build large businesses in future,” he says, adding that entrepreneurs need to be encouraged for the progress of a country. “We need more people starting up and an ecosystem to nurture these startups like in Silicon Valley which will finally help create world class products and companies.”

Restaurants can identify a loyal customer when he/she arrives and provide personalised service