How can Google Glass and Bluetooth Low Energy be used in retail? Mobile consultancy Somo staged two innovation days to come up with ideas.

Google Glass technology could be used for advertising

Some of retail’s biggest challenges - from showrooming to wavering consumer loyalty - can be tackled with cutting-edge technologies. Thinking creatively about a problem is key, says Joel Blackmore, senior innovation manager at mobile consultancy Somo. “It’s not about using revolutionary technology,” he says. “It’s more looking at a problem and figuring out how you can use the technology creatively.”

Somo recently held two ‘hack days’ focused on retail - one considering Google Glass in June, and the other focusing on Bluetooth Low Energy in August. Below are some of the ideas that came out of the events.

Mobile loyalty

It has become harder over recent years to maintain customer loyalty, but mobile holds potential to improve this.

Somo’s loyalty idea was created with a supermarket in mind, but it can translate to other retailers. The service involves a gaming element - shoppers are encouraged to go around the store collecting and scanning specific items with their phones. So for a ‘night in’ offer, shoppers could collect a DVD, some popcorn and a bottle of wine in order to receive a promotional voucher.

Bluetooth beacons can communicate with smartphones and track where each user is. The data held on a shopper’s mobile can be used to determine whether an offer will suit a shopper.

Blackmore thinks services such as this can also help retailers direct traffic around the store. He says: “It’s an interesting way of getting someone to prove they’ve been to an area. It’s good for retailers who have different brands available and it maximises the total purchase amount.”


Navigation services could be useful in big-box stores, large shopping centres or outlet malls such as Bicester Village. A shopper can list any items they are interested in on an app, which will trigger a route around the store or mall. The service could also use data on the phone that suggests which stores the shopper might want to visit.

Blackmore says: “The aim was to look at different technologies to get people around the store so shoppers know exactly where they are. It’s also looking at how retailers can control footfall.” The service uses Bluetooth and wi-fi to track the shopper and provide a route.

Content in store

Idea number three again requires a shopper to input the type of products or product they want to buy. If it’s paint in a DIY store, for instance, the shopper will be provided with a route to the paint aisle. As they get closer, Bluetooth beacons will send out different messages and as the shopper travels across the store, the beacons may send product information. When they get to the paint aisle, they might receive a promotional code that helps to persuade to buy then and there.

Blackmore says: “We are looking at ways we can use mobile behaviour in store in various ways to reward the user and the retailer. It means you can use these experiences to help users out in store, and help them buy there and then, rather than going away and buying online.”

Virtual queueing

Few shoppers are fans of queueing, so this idea involved Somo developers building their own ticketed queueing system mobile app. The app shows shoppers how long the queue in a clothing store is for the changing rooms and allows them to take a place in it. When it’s their turn in the changing room, their mobile will act as a buzzer.

Blackmore says: “We also thought you could deliver tailored content while people are waiting, to show them the looks other shoppers are interested in, promotional materials, looks of the day, more products. It’s a nice blend of physical and digital retail. At the moment they’re almost at war with each other.”

Google Glass presentations

One way of using Google Glass would be in a corporate setting, when staff are giving presentations. If the technology were worn by everyone in the audience, different content could be pushed out to them based on what each person might be interested in - figures to the chief financial officer, for instance, or advertising performance to the marketing team.

Google Glass advertising

Google Glass builds a different timeline for every user because it’s compiled according to the pictures they take and the web pages they look at. For users, there are almost no barriers to taking pictures - they simply need to speak to the device and it will snap an image of whatever they are looking at.

If they take pictures of advertising or of products themselves, brands will be able to use that as a trigger to send more information on the product. Somo used the example of film posters. Someone taking a picture of a Star Trek poster, for example, could instantly be sent information on where to buy tickets, a YouTube trailer, or film reviews.

Blackmore says: “If you take a picture of that product it will always be on your timeline, so we wanted to find a way of turning that [into] more information.”

How Bluetooth Low Energy works

Bluetooth technology has been around for a long time, but it’s not widely used at present. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a new incarnation of the technology that is more affordable because it uses less power. Now small plastic low-energy Bluetooth beacons can be placed around a store and can communicate with smartphones up to 50 metres away. The technology works in a similar way to wi-fi - it enables phones to communicate with each other and allows retailers to send out content to shoppers. Blackmore says BLE will be more suitable for retailers because it’s easier to send out varied content depending on how close shoppers are to the beacon. He says: “Wi-fi is impersonal and broad, BLE is much more intimate and sensitive. They are similar, yet very different ways of delivering digital content.”

The other factor working in Bluetooth’s favour is that Apple’s next operating system update, iOS7, will have Bluetooth built in under the name iBeacon. This means all iPhone and iPad users will automatically have the technology on their phones - and once Apple has embraced a technology, it’s likely to take off.

Apple users will gravitate naturally to using Bluetooth, and won’t have to turn it on to use it, unlike wi-fi, where they will need to log on to a retailer’s system. Apple’s iOS7 will be available to download from September 18th.

How Google Glass works

Google Glass is a tiny computer worn over a user’s right eye on a device that looks a bit like a pair of glasses.

It is voice-controlled and does everything a smartphone does, including taking photos and videos or going online.

Users use voice commands to scroll through screens in the same way that users scroll through Instagram or Twitter.

Content appears on the home screen as a sort of digital scrap book, comprising pictures the user has taken, web pages they have visited, and social interactions. Users can also use Google Hangouts to chat to friends via video - friends will be able to see what the Google Glass wearer sees. Blackmore says: “What Glass was aiming to achieve was to remove the barriers of interacting with technology. We are all very used to picking up our phones or tablets and turning them on. [Google] wanted to put that screen into your peripheral vision at all times and have everything controlled by voice.

The aim was to make it as easy as possible to interact with something digitally when you are in a physical world.”

The content that appears on Glass is very answer-focused, so the computer can both speak the answers or show them on screen. Blackmore says the earliest ways of using the technology will likely involve high-end retailers such as Burberry giving the technology to their staff - as with mobile devices, Glass will be able to provide stock level
information, customer data and product information.

As more consumers use Glass, it is likely to prompt an uplift in trends such as showrooming and in-store digital interaction. Blackmore says this will happen fairly quickly.

“The uptake rate will be similar to smartphones. At first it will be more high-end, higher income consumers and [be] a bit more of a gimmick.

“However, as we have seen with smartphones, as the technology evolves the price will drop and it goes from luxury to universal item.”

Blackmore adds there is speculation that Glass will launch in the UK this Christmas at a cost of £300. Google has confirmed nothing about the technology’s launch yet.