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In-Store Trial: 3 Mobile Datapoints To Locate Customers

Written by Evan Schuman
October 26th, 2011

In a five-store trial—slated to expand chain-wide in the next two weeks—the Meijer grocery chain has gotten creative about letting customers locate products on the shelves using their phones. Given that GPS won’t work in-store and that in-store hardware sensors are expensive and labor-intensive, the chain is using a combination of Wi-Fi signal strength and product-barcode scanning to zero in on the customer’s location.

The potential of this microlocation mobile approach is compelling, because it provides a relatively easy—and somewhat accurate—way to help customers find product. Of course, that’s not the goal of all chains. Some chains—such as Costco—depend heavily on the customer stumbling on impulse buys as he/she wanders the aisles in search of the elusive clothes pins or peanuts.

The Meijer FindIt App trial—which is using technology from a vendor called PointInside—tries to deliver mobile product-discovery using several simultaneous data sources. On their own, the accuracy is fairly weak. But when combined, the system gets a fairly precise sense of the customer’s location.

The first datapoint is the store’s planogram, which the chain will need to regularly update. Customers can see it on their phones and, theoretically, can look at an aisle heading and figure out where they are on the map and then navigate from there. This is the low-tech “I am here” concept from shopping mall maps.

From there, the system accesses the store’s Wi-Fi network. Critically, though, customers don’t need to find the network on their phones and also don’t need to try and log into the network. The sole purpose is to proximate—within about 10 meters—the customer’s location based on Wi-Fi signal strength, said Todd Sherman, PointInside’s chief marketing officer. “We’ll triangulate. That’s the Wi-Fi fingerprinting that we do,” he said.

Still, a plus—or minus—of 30 feet in a grocery store can make finding that bottle of soy sauce with your iPhone not that helpful. The next datapoint is a product scan. Once the customer can be persuaded to scan some product on the shelf, that product’s barcode will—courtesy of the planogram—reveal a much more precise indication of the customer’s location.

If the customer happens to scan an errantly placed product—such as a container of ice cream sitting in the paper goods aisle—the system will see the disconnect between the Wi-Fi data and the barcode and then ignore that barcode and await the next barcode, Sherman said. “We can tell when something is out of place,” he said.

The third datapoint comes from the phone itself.


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One Comment | Read In-Store Trial: 3 Mobile Datapoints To Locate Customers

  1. ed Says:

    Retail-based indoor positioning systems would be best served with a RFID/NFC solution. Wi-Fi and barcode scanning is not exact science.

    I would 900Mhz RFID tag the shopping carts or shopping baskets and have multiple readers that can pickup the cart/basket position near displays or point of interest instead of trying to triangulation x/y coordinations that may not be accurate.

    NFC mobile would be used to read the cart RFID tag or basket and associate both cart/basket with the mobile users and track them through the store and send offers to their mobile phone.

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