For those of you who are blissfully unaware of the many ways in which retailers are keeping tabs on your shopping habits, note that many stores are starting to use something called "beacon technology," a system of Bluetooth-powered devices that can exchange information with shoppers' smartphones. Beacon technology enables shoppers to receive alerts when they're in or near a store that has a special promotion for example, or, in the case of Paypal Beacon, to actually pay for items from their phones instead of at a cash register.
But that's not all beacons can do, as is being made evident by a charitable Easter egg hunt sponsored by luxury jewelry company Fabergé. It was conceived by charity The Elephant Family and its agency Saatchi and Saatchi with help from a startup called Nomi, the last of which helps bricks-and-mortar businesses gather data about their customers, often using iBeacons. But in this case, Nomi is using beacons in a very different way.
On Tuesday, Fabergé will stage the Big Egg Hunt, which is like your traditional Easter egg hunt on steroids. In this version, there will be over 275 eggs scattered around New York City, each one around 2.5 feet tall and designed by a globally renowned artist, designer, architect, photographer or brand. Several fashion brands participated, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane von Furstenberg, Warby Parker and Naeem Khan.
If you find yourself with some free time in New York City tomorrow, you can participate in the hunt by downloading the Big Egg Hunt app, available via iTunes and Google Play, which you can use to "check in" at the location of each egg you find. That's where the Beacon technology comes in: Nomi actually installed a piece of Beacon hardware inside each egg, so that when you're signed in to the app and within a certain range of one of the eggs, you're sent an alert, including information about the egg and who designed it. Additionally, by checking in, you're entered into a sweepstakes to win one of three Fabergé gemstone pendants.
Nomi co-founder Wesley Barrow says that the project was quite the undertaking and, in fact, the largest beacon deployment ever made in the U.S. Nomi provided their custom beacon hardware and all of teams involved worked through the weekend to deploy the beacon-enabled Eggs around the city. Each device sends out signals every few seconds that can be recognized by the app, and the app then sends your smartphone an alert when it receives one. Add to that a "bunch of security layers" and permissioning. "It's not just as easy as plugging it in. You have to make sure someone else couldn't come in to reverse engineer and build another app using our devices," Barrow says. The consumer-facing app experience was created by a different company, Resolute Digital.
So why would Nomi want to get involved in this initiative when it has so little to do with retail? Barrow explains that he and his team "wanted to take on the challenge of putting [beacons] in other environments" -- in this case, outdoor, high-traffic areas like Grand Central Station and Union Square. "If you know they're going to work in that scenario, then they'll definitely work in a traditional retail environment." This will allow Nomi to provide another example to potential retail partners of how beacon technology can be utilized. "Retailers are still looking for use cases that make sense," he says. Barrow also hopes it will be "something people will remember for a long time."
The hunt also benefits two charities: conservation organization Elephant Family and Studio in a School, a program that brings visual arts to New York City’s public schools. Proceeds from Big Egg Hunt merchandise -- available at Saks Fifth Avenue, TheBigEggHunt.org and various pop-ups throughout the city -- will benefit them. Then, following an open-to-the-public finale exhibition at Rockefeller Center from April 18 to 25, several of the eggs will be auctioned off live at Sotheby's and online on Paddle8 to raise more funds for both charities.