US bank Citibank using iBeacons in NYC branches

Retail banking firm Citibank has begun using iBeacons to help it forge new interactions and experiences with its customers.

The company is piloting iBeacons, which pick up data and send it to third-party devices, in its New York branches to communicate with customers’ smartphones.

Changing customer interaction

By doing this, customers are able to use their phones to unlock secured lobby doors, as opposed to using special key cards they’ve been given by the bank.

City has been working on the pilot since March 2016, when it drafted in the support of beacon manufacturer Gimbai. It’s currently implementing 300 beacons into its branches in Manhattan, New York.

Since the launch, the banking and Gimbai have managed to install around half of the beacons, and the rollout process is set to continue into the foreseeable future.

Citibank has 450,000 customers in spread across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It says they’re all able to take part in the pilot but are expected to download the Citi mobile app and greenlight location-based services first.

Gimbal’s Proximity Series 21 models are being used for this pilot. They’re capable of transmitting a unique, encrypted ID number every time a signal is sent or picked up, which Citibank says makes them unique to other beacons. The firm is also using Gimal’s software development kit.

Related: World’s largest beacon network rolls-out in China

iBeacons gaining momentum

Beacons are growing massive traction right around the world, especially in the retail space. Mark Thomson, retail industry director EMEA at Zebra Technologies, believes that beacon technology is changing the cards for retailers.

He said: “The adoption of increasingly sophisticated beaconing solutions – particularly in retail stores – and the growth of mobile, means we can give the physical store a digital voice. So retailers can now know when a customer enters the store via a mobile app connected to Wi-Fi.

“With this knowledge they can send offers and deal information in the moment of truth. This thinking is shifting retailers away from impersonal letters through the front door, to one-to-one personalised marketing and it’s changing the whole nature of a loyalty programme.

IoT forms a vital ingredient of beacons. Thomson added: “The Internet of Things is connecting us all and is the driving force behind what all UK retailers should be aspiring to: the smart store. By 2020 it’s estimated that we’ll see somewhere in the range of 20 – 30 billion connected devices across the globe.

“Many retailers may regard this as too far off to prioritise but the reality is location and beaconing solutions which are available now will lay the groundwork for the connected store. Those that ignore this will miss out.”

Big opportunities

Mark Kaefer, marketing director at RhythmOne, sees big opportunities for everyone. He told Internet of Business:

“Beacons have been previously been underused for a variety of reasons. Saying that, I think we’re seeing greater adoption of the technology this year.

“Apple and Google have made several advances in beacon technology over the last 6-12 months. Big-name retailers like Target are rolling out beacons to enhance the consumer experience.

“Most significantly, the majority of mobile users have their smartphones literally in hand when they’re shopping in physical locations — and that opens the door for big opportunities.”

Related: 5 ways the Internet of Things will change retail