Mapping Apps to Go Indoors

Discussion
Aug 26, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Many consumers are using mobile devices and/or GPS devices to track down
a particular restaurant or other landmark. Soon,
consumers may be able to do pretty much the same inside of their favorite stores
with apps that lead them directly to the products they are looking for. Things
could get pretty slow at the customer service desk.

Meijer has just announced that it is testing an application for
the iPhone and Android devices that will help shoppers in its huge store find
more than 100,000 items it stocks. In addition to its tracking capabilities,
the Meijer “Find-it” app
will also provide shoppers with updated information on weekly specials and
promotions available in the store.

The retailer selected four Michigan supercenters
for the initial pilot including two in Grand Rapids and one each in Gaines
Township and Grandville.

“Meijer is always looking for ways to improve our customers’ shopping
experience,” said Elizabeth Wilson, online/mobile marketing specialist for
the chain, in a press release. “So we are truly excited to introduce technology
that not only continues our company’s tradition of innovation, but helps
makes shopping more convenient and fun for our customers.”

“One
of the most common questions every retail associate hears is ‘Where can I find
the…,'” said Jon Croy, co-founder and VP,
business development for Point Inside, the company that co-developed the app
with Meijer. “Saving
time, enabling self-service, and making sure shoppers don’t leave the
store without finding what they need is a win-win for both shoppers and retailers.”

Discussion Questions: Will product location applications for in-store use
become common in the future? Will these types of apps lead to improved compliance
on the part of retailers? What effect will it have on the customer experience?

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23 Comments on "Mapping Apps to Go Indoors"


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Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
10 years 8 months ago
I wonder how many purchases are lost in frustration because it was too hard to find the item and too annoying to ask the nearest associate. In and of itself, I don’t expect that feature of Meijer’s mobile app will justify the cost of development. The real value of the app will come from any “sidecar” marketing (or, more broadly, relationship-building) that Meijer does in the app. The shopper can’t find charcoal? They should know about the great steaks that are on special. The shopper doesn’t know where to find balloons? Remind them to pick up paper plates, plastic utensils, and a sheet cake for their party. Even better would be if Meijer tied the app to shoppers’ purchase histories – then the marketing could be even more targeted, and its impact on sales at a shopper level could be measured. In short, anything a retailer can do to enable 1:1 communication with their shoppers is a win… the question to watch with Meijer is whether they make the most of the new vehicle or… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

I would be willing to try this service, especially in big format stores where I’ve not been a regular shopper. Meijer gets an A for being on the front end of offering their shoppers options beyond searching for sales associates on the floor or traveling all the way to one corner of the store to find the customer service desk.

David Dorf
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Using a mobile phone to find products on the shelves was probably the most obvious use for phones in retail, but since GPS doesn’t work indoors the applications had to wait for the technology to catch up. There are several companies, like PointInside, ZuluTime, and Nearbuy, that have solutions available that are pretty accurate and improving all the time. (See this for more information.)

Once you can accurately locate a shopper’s position, you can trace their path through stores, target them with offers relevant to the department they’re traversing, and even give them a “help button” to summon assistance.

Of course now that the technology exists there are some store operations hurdles to overcome, but retailers will work those out over time.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

In-store location apps are just what the consumer ordered, provided that they are accurate and retailers keep items in stock. One of the great frustrations consumers have is tracking down a store employee to ask “where can I find the….” Look for more and more in-store applications as the use of smart phones grows.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Product location applications for in-store use are a sure thing for the not-too-distant future. This will be very useful and convenient for consumers. However, retailers will need to invent new ways to route consumers around the store to make unplanned purchases!

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

It only took 100+ years, since the original supermarkets and department stores sprung up, however, this is an idea whose time is long overdue. Great app!

Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Retailers are gladly giving up training and ceding that they can’t reasonably expect associates to know where items are.

I get at a grocery store this could help but in an apparel store? If customers are just following the cheese on their smartphone through your maze of aisles, why have displays or a warm environment?

Matt Hahn
Guest
Matt Hahn
10 years 8 months ago

This is going to be a huge win for both retailers and consumers. The logistical challenges are really the hurdle that will be hard to get over, but as RF technology becomes more pervasive, stores will be able to confirm where product is and relay that to the consumer. It will even be able to let the customer know that it’s not currently on the shelf, but is available in the stockroom; adding a “help me” feature that will expedite customer service.

Imagine how many more sales traditional retailers will have once customers stop having to leave in frustration when they can’t find the item they need. Tie this in with the availability of online channels and self-serve check out via the same App and no sale should ever be lost.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
This is a significant advance in the Convergence of Online, Mobile and Bricks-and-mortar (COMB) retailing, in this case connecting mobile and Bricks-and-mortar, paralleling the recent discussion here of Nordstrom’s marrying online/offline inventory management. The real advance here is jumping from a proprietary device to the shopper’s own device to execute what began with IRI’s VideoCart and has moved through a series of efforts, most recently MediaCart and finally Modiv’s Shopper, a proprietary hand-held device deployed in a LARGE number of stores at Stop & Shop and other retailers. The point of these other devices is that they are far advanced in finding what actually works with an electronic shopping assistant. Having said this, I’m quite certain that the cell-phone/PDA model of Point Inside will be the ultimate winner. Now for what may be the Achilles heel that will plague these applications: most retailers do NOT know where everything is in their stores. 100,000 SKUs at Meijer? I can assure you that electronic planograms are not THAT accurate. Just yesterday a store manager was guiding me… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

I can see the value to the retailer for in-store mapping apps. But I have a big problem with it. We are taking all customer interaction out of the shopping experience. Self check out is now gaining in popularity. Add the in store app to the process and the labor costs to the retailer drops significantly. Costs will not drop in ratio to the labor savings. So profits will rise. As a customer service advocate, I am hoping we can become more aware of the need for customer interaction; and not so hung up on speed and limited interactive communication.

Rick Moss
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

My local Fairway Market (Paramus, NJ) did a complete reset of its grocery aisles earlier this summer. They wisely positioned associates in the center aisle to guide disoriented shoppers. (“Can I help you find something?” “Just my wife. She disappeared down one of these aisles.”)

But seriously, although much appreciated, I’ve found it’s easy to stump them, leading to a game of follow-the-headscratcher. I see these apps as being equally beneficial for store staff. It wouldn’t cost much to outfit a few associates with iPod Touches or even iPads.

Lynn Kiper
Guest
Lynn Kiper
10 years 8 months ago

I think it a good idea, but work in retail and we are always moving merchandise around. If the stores do not keep up-to-date information, it will be very confusing for the customer to find what they are looking for.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 8 months ago

This would be great! And let me suggest that the retailer give the consumer a credit every time they have to use a personal hand-held device to find something in a retail establishment. If retailers are going to arrange their stores in a manner that makes it hard to locate items (like putting canned vegetables on one side of the store and canned fruit on the other side of the store) then the store should be responsible for reimbursing the consumer for the inconvenience caused by their behavior.

For years, store layouts have been configured to be confusing and cause shoppers to spend more time in the store because consumers sometimes make an impulse purchase and add to the retailer’s profits. Well, this philosophy of merchandising costs time. Why should the consumer have to put up with this?

If retailers want to start geocaching in their stores then they better come up with some pretty great prizes.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

The BrainTrust obviously thinks this is a great idea. It is!

It is customer centric and it gives competitive advantage to those retailers who provide it. Every addition and nuance that the previous writers suggested makes sense.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
This piece was published in April 2009. Not sure whether anything actually came of it but the idea was to give elderly people a “discreet” GPS device to help them find their way around supermarket aisles. Especially if they had been re-designed and became unfamiliar or the shopper had got older and, hence, more easily confused. That was the premise, anyway. Knowing how today’s masses have seized the app concept, though, I can’t see any way Meijer’s product might not be a winner. (Except, of course, for staff who are made redundant and customers without the app unable to find helpful staff*, not to mention customers who go directly for the products they want, thereby reducing impulse buys.) *As one of those who is incapable of dealing with mobile phone and app technology, failing to have real live people to escort me to the product I want could only be offset by having neat little screens that I can cross-examine placed in each aisle (although I recognise that I am not alone in my resistance… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Let me add a negative note, just to see what people say in response. It is not a big stretch to imagine that companies creating these apps will not only know what you looked for, but also what you bought, since we will all be using our phones as payment devices in a few years. Privacy implications?

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 8 months ago

I think the simple answer is “Yes.” Navigation apps are pretty much a certainty for large retailers in the long-term.

The really compelling element of them though, for retailers, is in better understanding the movement of shoppers through the store. In theory, if a customer is using the app., their movement along the path-to-purchase (where they go, where they stop, how long they spend in an area) can all be measured. With the aggregate information, store designers and merchandisers should be able to make far better decisions and design more engaging environments.

Dave Wendland
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

The future is now. These apps are real and can be time-savers, promotion enhancers and powerful differentiators. Combine this type of new-age application with a robust ingredient look-up or product information service for those items that are often confusing like healthcare items (e.g., HealthPicks or similar databases) and the consumer will truly be an informed shopper. Great stuff!

Gib Bassett
Guest
Gib Bassett
10 years 8 months ago

Whenever I read things like this I can’t help but immediately think about how store layout, end caps, and product placement as a retail science fits with mobile-enabled consumers. Especially within large retail store environments or even grocery stores, offering the ability to direct a consumer to a product’s location presents the chance to point them in such a way to spur impulse buys or drive them to considered purchases related to the product they are seeking.

Mobile technologies, such as applications or the mobile web are logical platforms to enable this type of in-store experience.

Jason Goldberg
Guest
Jason Goldberg
10 years 8 months ago
This is another cool step to the future of retail. The math is pretty simple… 1. Consumers are all doing more research before making a purchase. 2. Selecting a product requires more information than ever before. 3. Mobile devices are about to overtake computers as the primary way consumers access the internet. The result … Shoppers are GOING to use mobile devices in the stores. The magic question is will the retailer give them a compelling reason to use their mobile websites and apps or will the brands or e-com competitors win the shoppers mobile attention? From previous demos from Point Inside and from the online videos from Meijer, it DOES NOT seem that this app has the ability to micro-locate the shopper in store (as Neer, ZuluTime, ShopKick, etc… hope to do). This app does seem to tackle the very real problem of making accurate store level SKU planogram data shopper facing. I hope they do it by integrating with Meijer’s POS, rather than creating another disjointed island of data that’s likely to get… Read more »
Jennifer Jarratt
Guest
Jennifer Jarratt
10 years 8 months ago

Can this approach be *really* consumer focused? For example, could I upload my shopping list ahead of my store visit and have a “guide” get me around the store, making sure I get all the best deals (not the store’s idea of a best deal) plus advice on nutrition, options, etc, but only if I’ve asked for it? Then I can leave with my shopping, having already paid as I collected the items–not stop to go through a pay-and-bag line, even if automated.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago

In stores, the most annoying thing to me is some bozo (or bozette) with their cart blocking an aisle while they’re foolin’ with their phone. Oblivious to everything around them. And then they crawl behind the wheel of a lethal machine and head out on the road with their apps. More apps mean more distractions.

On the other hand, for supremely alert people like me (grin), this is a great thing. Meijer, please license your app to Lowe’s and Home Depot. And I was wondering: Since GPS doesn’t work inside a store, can smart phones be configured to read RFID stickers? Would that work in a store as well as an app? Does anyone know?

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

I am ambivalent on the idea. Technology of this sort is always perceived as “cool,” makes for great press release copy, and will attract consumer attention and maybe local media coverage.

The question becomes, if we live in a service economy, why can’t grocery shoppers request service from grocery store associates? The fact that “where is the…?” is the most common question does not mean that it is not a valid one. The burden for better store layout and merchandising schemes falls to the store operator.

As busy shoppers walk in the stores these days, often heads-down while they check-in with Foursquare or Gowalla, answering a phone call, or responding to a text message, there may be limited appeal to opening another app to figure out where the alfredo sauce sits.

Sometimes the human touch is the best one.

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