Solutions Architecture

Proximity marketing has arrived. Here’s the blueprint for creating a one-to-one digital conversation with your shopper in-store today.

by Jake Bennett

Emerging technologies like iBeacon and Near Field Communication (NFC) have opened up the possibilities for unparalleled in-store interactivity with shoppers. The key is staying focused on using this new tech to actually enhance the shopping experience for the customer.


Emerging in-store positioning technologies like iBeacon hold the promise for highly-personalized, “Minority-Report-like,” marketing programs. However, this technology is still at a very early stage. Retailers who adopt the technology first—and are able to execute it brilliantly—will almost certainly gain a competitive advantage. But the challenge is that it’s not entirely clear what experiences can be created today that actually offers a better shopping experience. Much of what the industry is talking about now centers around using proximity technology to offer coupons to shoppers in-store. I, for one, think we can do a lot better than incessantly pushing discounts to shoppers as they peruse the aisle.

At POP, the innovation team wanted to weed out the hype from the reality by building a real, working prototype using today’s technology to create an in-store shopping experience that didn’t suck. We wanted to build something that added value to the shopping experience for the customer and promoted stronger sales for the retailer.

We also wanted to develop the prototype fast. Not in months, but in weeks. We set three weeks as the goal. We know that the rate of change in retail is crazy, and that we have to move at the same pace. So with a big goal in mind and a short timeline in front of us, we started by formulating a game plan. Our idea required a custom solution, but there wasn’t time to develop everything from scratch, so we needed to establish a “Lego-like” architecture: leverage pre-existing pieces and spend our time putting them together. Our technology Lego-set looked something like this:

  • HTML 5, rather than proprietary animation technologies, for kiosk motion video
  • A standard touch-screen kiosk running Windows and off-the-shelf kiosk security software
  • Cloud services via Amazon Web Services
  • Estimote iBeacons (Technical note: For a production system, it’s imperative to choose a beacon vendor with a security layer included, to avoid security attacks like beacon spoofing. We used Estimotes here for ease of deployment.)

Beacon Components Diagram


Everywhere Communication

One of the coolest aspects of beacon technology is its ability to attach the last link of the chain between the shopper and the retail space he’s in. But in order to make this work in a real-world retail setting, you have to get all of the pieces (beacon, mobile app, website and kiosk) to talk together. With that in mind, our team focused on building the communication layer first. That allowed us to prove that the whiteboard sketch could be implemented in practice. The communications architecture employs REST API calls and Web Sockets for the bulk of the inter-component messaging.