Bookatable Tests Foodies’ Appetite For iBeacons In UK, Shopkick Passes 7,500 Beacons

iBeacon, the Bluetooth Low Energy technology that is being used by businesses to push offers and other messages to customers’ smartphones when they are in the physical vicinity of a small pinging device, is starting to see some decent traction.

Businesses like Shopkick (recently acquired by SK planet for $200 million) have now rolled out some 7,500 of the devices across its retail footprint in the U.S., with ambitions to have the largest Beacon-based network for retailers in the country. And over in Europe, the technology is now also starting to see deployments in earnest. Bookatable, and online booking platform with operations across Europe, is now rolling out a system of iBeacon devices across its partner restaurants.

Starting first with a service developed with American Express for a small group of establishments during the London Restaurant Festival, Bookatable will expand iBeacons out to 119 restaurants in the city. With many iBeacon trials taking place with retailers or single eateries, Bookatable claims to be the first to be tackling a more comprehensive service.

The service for the restaurant festival, which is on this month, works like this: if you have the Bookatable app installed on your iPhone, when you walk past or into any participating restaurant you are pushed special-priced festival menus. Restaurants that are involved include those in the D&D group, Ping Pong, Spaghetti House OXO Tower, STK London and Villandry. After the festival and when the Beacons are installed more widely, the messages will include special offers to tempt walk-ins along with other services. (What kind? I can imagine, for example, a message about the free WiFi at a cafe as a way to entice passers-by.)

One of the attractive aspects of the Beacons for the retail industry has been that they are small and easy to install, and that seems to be the case here, with Bookatable’s iBeacons unbranded and the size of a 50p coin (the equivalent of a half-dollar coin in the U.S.). These devices cover a range of 50 meters.

Seeing restaurants get interested in iBeacons is a logical progression on early interest among retailers. In the UK, stores like Tesco and Waitrose both started trials of the technology earlier this year.

Shopkick, which has been an early adopter of the technology in the U.S. with its first tests starting in November 2013, is not very forthcoming on how much revenue it has generated from stores that have installed its own-branded version of the devices, which it calls shopBeacons. Overall, the company — which has also developed its own ultrasound-based proprietary hardware to push messages to users — says that its services have generated $1 billion in transactions, with that working out to revenues of $26.3 million in 2013 for shopkick itself.

It sounds like it will be some time before the company swaps over to an all-beacon strategy, though. “Ultrasound is the most accurate for retail for presence verification at the store entrance, and iBeacon is the best to activate the user when they are not running the app, and is also great deep within the store,” Cyriac Roeding, shopkick’s CEO and co-founder, explains. “SK planet also has other cool technologies that we can integrate. SK planet has its own mobile loyalty service, OKcashbag, with 38 million users.

It seems like one of the obvious next steps for iBeacon companies is to figure out how to leverage the contacts to enable payments, too, whether we’re talking about a fashion retailer, a restaurant or any another customer-facing physical business.

“We are already doing that through our special partnerships with Visa and MasterCard, where if you link your debit or credit card you get more ‘kicks’ [loyalty points] when you buy, and our full POS integration at Best Buy. In the future, we can integrate with more retailers and thereby create an even better shopping experience.” That will likely include Apple Pay, it seems. “Nothing to announce yet, but we’re very excited about Apple Pay.”