The Limitations of Beacon Based Tracking and Advertising

3 min read Nov 23, 2017

With the rising costs, shifts in customer expectations and stiff competition, retailers are always on the outlook for ways to gain efficiency and increase sales. So, when beacons appeared on the tech scene in 2013, there was a lot of hype around them. They were able to and provide targeted messaging to customers as they shopped in stores by tracking their movement.

The ability to see/track the shopper movement within the brick-and-mortar stores is quite appealing to the retailers. For years, retailers with an online presence have been able to track shopper behavior online through clicks and purchase data, but they have had no way to see what the shoppers are doing at their physical locations.

Beacons Alone Cannot Track Shoppers

The user has to install an app for the beacon to work on their phone. Ideally, beacon notifications should be built in the operating system and we should not need to install any additional app. Unfortunately, the user should have the app on his phone that can catch a beacon signal. There should be enough spur for the users to download the app and allow beacons to communicate. Also, no user likes to be poked with offers/unwanted notifications.

Secondly, movement tracking can only work when a shopper…

• Is carrying a mobile device

• Has the device switched on

• Has your retail app installed on the device and authorized to interact with your beacons

• Has both Wi-Fi/Cellular Network and Bluetooth switched on.

Challenges in Beacon Location Coverage

The BLE beacons can’t determine a shopper’s physical location with pinpoint accuracy, so it can be hard to know how many beacons are required, or where to position them in order to ensure that a zone is adequately covered.

Blind spots are hard to eliminate, presenting the risk that push notifications targeting shoppers in a particular zone may not reach their intended targets, or notifications intended for shoppers in one zone are pushed to those in an adjacent area.

The Risks of Irrelevant Notifications

For example, a clothing retailer, your customer in the ladies shoes section might receive a notification or offer relating to the men’s underwear section just across the aisle—which would probably not qualify as a customer-experience high point.


The idea of automatically logging in on entering a beacon zone and having your preferences linked to it might delight a few, while spooking many others.


Signals are Easy to duplicate” This feature, often considered strength, can be a weakness too. Though, it allows you to deploy the same beacons at multiple sites, it also makes it easy to ‘spoof’. With growing security and privacy concerns around beacons technology, this can be a huge dampener.

Thankfully, the new Bluetooth 4.2 specification takes care of this, by making it much more difficult to track a user through beacons if they haven't specifically opted in.

Technical Limitations

As beacons use Bluetooth Smart low energy radiation to send out the signals to the device, it is essential that the mobile Bluetooth is switched for interaction with the beacon in the beacon range. This part becomes difficult because apparently it is not known where the beacon is placed and when the Bluetooth needs to be on. It can be a turn off for many people as keeping Bluetooth on for the long period of time can drain the battery of the device.

Upgraded Handsets

Your phone needs to have Bluetooth low energy hardware built in. Until recently, only iPhones with iOS7+ had BLE compatibility. Now the latest Android phones will also be compatible with BLE. In most developing countries, people still use the lower versions of operating systems; hence the power of beacons can only be leashed once these people also have upgraded phones.


Though the idea is really game changing, but no technology is perfect. In order to take advantage of all its features, we need to understand its drawbacks and pitfalls and then tackle these with the right information and the right approach! Beacons are evolving and are poised to contribute heavily in the marketing landscape. The above-mentioned issues should not deter you from adding beacons into your marketing mix. Getting a second thought? Recall the time when TV was introduced for the first time; people discarded the idea thinking, why would anyone want to sit down for long hours in front of a screen, when one can simply pick up a radio and take a walk.

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Gourav Arora

Gourav Arora is a technocrat with over a decade of experience in the digital landscape. He is passionate about the Internet of Things (IoT) and holds a strong track record of steering digital transformation for organizations, managing efficacious business acquisition, and executing business turnarounds. Gourav loves exploring the evolving technology trends to ramp up while setting new milestones in the tech-driven smart ecosystem and is the product owner of iSOS and has got license and certifications for Google AdWords and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO).