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The future of virtual assistants

At this year’s RE.WORK Technology Summit, we spoke to journalist and academic Chris Brauer about the future of virtual assistants. Far from indulging us with sci-fi visions of robots serving tea in meetings, he spoke about beacons, a new type of technology revolutionizing retail worldwide

What is it?

Beacon technology refers to pieces of hardware that can be attached to surfaces such as walls and countertops. The beacons themselves act as communication channels, transmitting messages to devices such as smartphones

Beacon Technology today

As Chris points out in the film, beacon tech is already here. One of the most exciting examples has been the redevelopment of Regent Street, known as the ‘Mile of Style’, the district has had beacons placed outside and within stores that are taking part in the initiative. These beacons send messages and notifications to the phones of customers that have downloaded the Regent Street App. The content on the app is specially curated to let customers in the area on the day know about special promotions and events; but as Chris mentions in the film, virtual assistant technology is becoming more advanced and human-like in its intuitiveness. Not only does the technology communicate with you through messaging, but it is able to build an understanding of your individual interests and preferences, meaning the messages you receive will be relevant to you: this is part of the growing efficiency that Chris sees in the development of these technologies.

What does the future look like?

In years to come, researchers anticipate that this technology will be deployed en-masse by major retailers, encouraging its use amongst the general public. Interestingly enough, researchers also anticipate that outside of retail, beacon technology will make it easier for huge stations, hospitals and other institutions to inform visitors of important news such as delays, closures or emergencies.

In addition there are rumours that Apple are developing an iWallet to work alongside iBeacons (Apple’s own range of beacon devices), enabling users to pay for items directly from devices

How can small businesses harness its potential?

Beacon technology isn’t expensive, and tends to run on long lasting batteries. Getting a beacon is only part of the process, but it’s really the app that matters – you can opt for a third party app, but it makes more sense to create one especially for your business. This is a more expensive option, often using iBeacon technology, but industry consensus is that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Chris made the point that high street businesses could get together to approach beacon developers who could create special packages for different streets, a great example of how technology could help to boost local enterprise. The business case for these technologies is growing, as early adopters are now publishing results, the mobile payments company Level Up for example, has recorded a 22% increase in sales since deploying beacon technology.

Beacon tech will enable you to:

  • Alert customers to special offers when they walk into your store, and if you create your own app, you’ll be able to base the content you send them on the activities within apps.
  • Aid your customers with in-store searches and again, the beauty of having an app is that
  • Send prompts to your customers during the decision making process
  • Build a profile of your customers – their interests, the applications they use, products they are interested in. You can also build a profile of the most kind of devices being used in your store.

Useful reads:

Business Insider beacon technology report

Read more about new technology opportunities for your business