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In-Store Trial: 3 Mobile Datapoints To Locate Customers

October 26th, 2011

The third datapoint comes from the phone itself. Once the system has a fix on the customer’s location, the system accesses the phone’s compass and gyroscope to track the customer’s movements, continually updating the current location. Some movements provide another strong clue about precise location, such as turning around a corner. There are only so many places in the store where someone could legitimately make such a move. That data layered on top of the other datapoints can provide an increasingly precise customer location, to be mapped against the hopefully accurate planogram.

As gyroscopes on newer phones improve, the accuracy of these methods will likely also improve, Sherman said, adding that he’s hoping to see three-meter accuracy in the very near future, mostly as sales of current-generation smartphones grow.

Meijer, which has 197 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, did not respond to a request for comment by Wednesday (Oct. 26).

The Meijer app initially will permit someone to search for a specific item. But future versions will enable a customer to post a full shopping list, where the app can create the most efficient store path to obtain all of those items. Like most shopping list apps, the potential for suggested items will then be almost irresistible. (“I see you like overpriced items. May I show you some French sea salts?”).

But that’s for the future. Right now, the app’s primary approach is to take a specifically-sought item and find it on the map and then direct the customer to it. “If you’re looking for peanut butter, it will drop a pin on the map, within a couple of feet,” Sherman said.

The problem is that customers will not likely use it just to find generic peanut butter. They’ll want to use it to find Skippy Peanut Butter, Extra Chunky, With Low Sodium. When I am dispatched on a shopping trip and have an unfamiliar item on the list, I can generally find the aisle quickly and even the rough area, so that it will get to me to “Peanut Butters” or “Dry Cereals” or “Shampoos.” The value of a mobile app is at the next level of granularity.

Instead of staring up and down through six shelves of similarly-looking product hoping to find an exact match with my shopping list, the valuable app would zero in on the item and focus a laser beam light on the exact box.

And if that exact product isn’t in stock, it would save me the time of looking for it and say, “We’re out of that item and are expecting another shipment tomorrow morning. Would you like to reserve a jar? Would you like me to point to a very similar brand? Would you like me to write a note to your wife certifying that you really tried to find it?”

That’s where the distance between a few meters, a few feet and a few inches makes a huge difference.


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