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US grocery chains rolling Apple's iBeacon tech out to dozens of stores

Starting Monday, dozens of grocery stores in three major cities across the U.S. saw the rollout of Apple's iBeacon technology, allowing customers to receive location-specific data, such as relevant coupons, while they shop.

The latest unique implementation of iBeacon comes from advertiser InMarket, which began turning on iPhone-compatible sensors at Giant Eagle and Safeway stores in Cleveland, Ohio, Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco, Calif. InMarket specializes in location-based advertisements, and using Apple's iBeacon platform the company will be able to target ads for frequent grocery store shoppers.

The implementation by InMarket requires that customers have the advertiser's loyalty app for iPhone, called Checkpoints. When the app is installed a a user is within range of an iBeacon transmitter, marketing efforts, presumably with coupons and discounts, can be pushed to their smartphone.

"This has the potential to disrupt the retail experience as we know it," InMarket CEO Todd Dipaola told AppleInsider. "Think about all of the benefits of online shopping, but applied to the real world. Shopping list reminders, specific coupons tailored to things you like, eventually mobile checkout. We're in the top of the first inning right now with iBeacon, so the possibilities are very exciting."

InMarket plans to activate its iBeacons at more than 100 Safeway and Giant Eagle locations in the next few weeks, contributing to the over 150 stores included in the initial rollout. The firm has its eye set on thousands of locations in the top 20 markets by year's end.

According to Dipaola, iBeacon's ease of use made it an easy choice over other micro-location protocols, including NFC.

"NFC requires users to literally take their phone out, turn it on, and tap it against a target to activate," Dipaola said. "iBeacons can reach a user with their phone in their pocket anywhere in a store. This allows shoppers to physically browse the store as normal and take advantages of new features like a shopping list reminder when they enter. Mobile to Mortar will be compatible with all BLE devices including Android."

Aside from consumer benefits, iBeacon makes things easy on vendors too. Dipaola said InMarket created its system through Apple's standard Developer Program and had iBeacon-compatible apps approved before iTunes Connect's holiday break. Hardware installation includes small devices "barely larger than a quarter," meaning deployment can be flexible and wide-ranging.

InMarket's system will initially target customers as they enter a store, but testing is currently underway for in-aisle iBeacons.Dipaola notes the initial rollout will target customers as they enter a store, though InMarket is experimenting with in-aisle implementations.

InMarket would not disclose manufacturing costs, but said it has invested "millions" in the platform, as well as partner relationships.

Apple itself began using iBeacons in a limited capacity at all 254 of its U.S. retail stores in December. Using the official Apple Store application for iPhone, users can shop for new items, check iPhone upgrade eligibility, or pick up an order they've already placed.

Retailer Macy's has also added iBeacon support through partner Shopkick at its flagship stores in New York and San Francisco. And a startup named Exact Editions has been pushing free magazine samples at specific locations through iBeacon transmitters.

Use of iBeacon isn't solely limited to marketing, however. For example, at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Consumer Electronics Association is using Apple's technology for a virtual scavenger hunt.

Using the Bluetooth 4.0, or Bluetooth Low Energy, protocol, iBeacon is an intelligent micro-location platform that can be deployed in a variety of environments to aid in navigation and interactive geofencing. Low-energy transmitters facilitate two-way communication with supported mobile devices that come within 100 feet, allowing for accurate indoor navigation, automated retail services and customers statistics aggregation, among other functions.

AppleInsider's Shane Cole contributed to this report