Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Indoor Positioning: Enhancing the Retail Experience

With the advent of Context in the app design fundamentals, and smartphones being designed to enhance the lives of the users in all ways possible, one thing is certain: technology is becoming more and more intelligent. We’ve already stepped foot into an era where app interactions and activities are no longer dependant on user inputs alone; applications are now equipped to produce outputs on the basis of inputs from sensors.

Perhaps the most notable development in this regard has been location based notifications and alerts. I’ve already spoken about Fused Location and Geofencing earlier, and it is indeed amazing to see the extent to which we’ve come in terms of mapping and location sensing.

But this experience can be further enhanced, to involve indoor location sensing as well. A realm of opportunities can be opened up for businesses and establishments to interact with their patrons in a never before manner, and this forms the crux of my article here: Indoor Positioning, and its potential in the near future!

EASING INTO THE BASICS

Positioning and location based services have been around for quite some time now, but it does come with its share of limitations. GPS by itself works best only when the user is outdoors, and cellular coverage for location sensing isn’t always the most accurate thing out there. These shortcomings led to the popularisation of Fused Location Sensing technologies which can enhance the location tracking capabilities.

However, when it comes to indoor location sensing, things can get slightly trickier. Since as early as 2011, organisations such as Google and Bing have been aspiring to achieve indoor positioning in an efficient and effective manner. In fact, Google kicked off the indoor positioning trend via WiFi and phone signal triangulation in an attempt to pinpoint the user’s location indoors.

emberify_indoor_mapping_blueprint

Time flies, and technology involves. The Internet of Things is gaining a momentum like never before, and this has led to the popularisation of indoor smart devices and sensors which can enhance the experience – specially in retail stores – for end users and establishment owners alike.

SENSOR TECHNOLOGY

The sensors involved in indoor positioning are mind bogglingly intricate, so I will just skim over the basics in this particular article. Broadly speaking, we are looking at low energy sensors which are incorporated in multiple areas of the establishment / retail store, which will be able to interact intuitively with the shopper’s smartphones in order to enhance the overall shopping experience for the end user.

The primary technologies in this regard involve BLE systems (which, incidentally, form the defining unit of cheap fitness trackers that play an important role in the Quantified Self!). The Bluetooth Low Energy systems take into account not just sensors, but also beacons which transmit signals that are received by the user’s smartphone.

Then come technologies such as NFC, Visual Recognition through cameras, to even complex systems such as smart lighting and magnetic fields. All in all, a plethora of sensors are involved in indoor positioning systems, and they all work with one purpose: to make a network indoors, which helps in the interchange of information between the shoppers and the store owners!

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF IT ALL

Now I’ve briefly gone over the technologies involved in indoor positioning, but it’s been mostly vague. Why would a retailer want to incorporate indoor positioning systems at all?

PROXIMITY MESSAGING

Using indoor positioning technologies, marketers and corporations can target prospective customers more accurately, through relevant messages and notifications which are sent to the consumer based on proximity sensing. Do keep in mind, we’re talking about retail establishments which rely on attracting the consumers through whatever means possible. In this regard, proximity messaging plays an important role.

A notable example in this context would be UK retailer House of Fraser, which introduced beacon equipped mannequins in its Aberdeen store to provide customers with a more engaging retail experience. Proximity comes into play here, and when the customer is within a specific range from the mannequin, the beacon sends a signal to the customer which contains relevant information  – involving the price and description of the item – regarding the mannequin the customer is standing next to.

emberify_house_of_fraser_ble
(Image Source: House of Fraser)

Another example is Waitrose, which trialled iBeacons within its concept store in Swindon to send in-store marketing messages to the customers.

DATA ANALYSIS

Big data, numbers and analytic tools have always been at the helm of things when it comes to assessing the consumer mindset, and things are no different here as well. Using intelligent sensors that are placed in strategic locations around retail stores, store owners can gauge for how long customers are standing at particular locations and the patterns of exploring aisles.

Why is this relevant? Using the proper analytic tools, and the data that is gathered from indoor positioning sensors, store owners can gauge buying preferences of customers and can accordingly take appropriate steps to maximise sales. A notable example for this would be some Tesco stores, which have introduced BLE beacons within a few of their stores to analyse the customer behaviour patterns.

And this isn’t limited just to retail sectors. This aspect of data analysis can be utilised for analysing the footfall in public areas such as malls, musea and stadia to gather an understanding about how people use their space.

PAYMENT

Finally, we come to intelligent payment systems. Both with Android Pay and Apple Pay systems, payment at point of sales terminals is already at a very intelligent stage, but it can be made better via indoor positioning. BLE Beacons could be used to authenticate a user’s device as soon as he/she steps foot within a retail store, and could keep track of the buying behaviour of the customer. Making the payment at the cash counters would ultimately be a one step procedure as the authentication process was already carried out when the customer stepped in.

FUTURE SCOPE

Indoor positioning holds tremendous potential – not just in the retail sectors, but also in entertainment, gamification, workspace and transportation industries. It is opening up new opportunities for establishment owners to better understand the client and patron behaviour, and frame decisions which would be conducive to the growth of business. The emergence of new applications in this technology sector is imminent, and the near future holds great prospects here!

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