Retail Brands Hope Mobile In-Store Maps & Search Yield Treasure

Tar­get, Wal­mart, Macy’s, Lowe’s find ways to engage with mobile con­sumers while learn­ing about their shop­ping behav­ior.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Mobile-assist­ed in-store shop­ping is on the rise, as evi­denced by recent efforts from brands like Tar­get, Wal­mart, Macy’s and Lowe’s. These ini­tia­tives include maps and enhanced search func­tion­al­i­ty, which, in turn, help con­sumers find what they want as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. And, at the end of the day, this could also help brands cut through some of the noise this hol­i­day sea­son and increase sales.

Mobile shop­per engage­ment com­pa­ny Point Inside announced sev­er­al new in-store nav­i­ga­tion fea­tures in the app for retail­er Tar­get includ­ing inter­ac­tive maps, as well as “enhanced” shop­ping lists and search capa­bil­i­ties. Fur­ther, Tar­get will be using the inter­ac­tive maps to pro­vide the pre­cise loca­tions of its door­buster Black Fri­day deals for each of its 1800 U.S. loca­tions.

Tar­get is using Point Inside’s Store­mode plat­form, which helps retail­ers bet­ter engage with cus­tomers in stores, accord­ing to Pete Cole­man, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­er­al man­ag­er at Point Inside. For exam­ple, the inter­ac­tive maps over­lay item loca­tions as pins on store maps – includ­ing inven­to­ry avail­abil­i­ty in real-time, Cole­man said.

Part of the work that goes into the inter­ac­tive maps is get­ting the phys­i­cal con­text of each store – which Point Inside refers to as “ground truth” – and this helps answer the two most impor­tant ques­tions for con­sumers: “Do you have it and where can I find it?” Cole­man said.

Each store is like a snowflake and has its own unique nuances,” he added.

In addi­tion, shop­ping lists pro­vide a pro­duc­t’s aisle loca­tion in a giv­en store and link direct­ly to the inter­ac­tive maps, and type-ahead, auto-com­plete func­tion­al­i­ty enables guests to quick­ly add items to their shop­ping lists.

The shop­ping list fea­ture mim­ics con­sumer behav­ior when cre­at­ing lists because con­sumers write down gener­ic items rather than spe­cif­ic brand names when they are com­pil­ing hand­writ­ten shop­ping lists, accord­ing to Cole­man. That means retail­ers can pro­vide maps/lists with­out forc­ing con­sumers to “browse down through a tree to iden­ti­fy a spe­cif­ic prod­uct,” Cole­man said. “We’ve seen shop­pers not have the patience to do that.”

These fea­tures launched with Target’s iPhone app, but will be avail­able for Android “very soon,” Cole­man said.

Point Inside sees mobile as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to real­ly go inside the store and assist with clos­ing sales with­in the store and inspir­ing shop­pers “where over 90 per­cent of sales are hap­pen­ing today still in 2014,” Cole­man said.

In turn, retail­ers gain knowl­edge about shop­per behav­ior and what’s trend­ing in each store, which can help in mer­chan­diz­ing and ful­fill­ment, Cole­man said.

I think broad­ly about the indus­try, every retail­er is excit­ed about this tech­nol­o­gy because shop­pers have already kind of vot­ed. The jury’s in – they are using devices in store,” Cole­man said. “This tech­nol­o­gy answers those two ques­tions [Do you have it and where can I find it?].”

In addi­tion, when it comes to in-store search, Cole­man said apps have his­tor­i­cal­ly yield­ed results from a retailer’s ecom­merce sys­tem, which includes every­thing they have in their ware­hous­es.

But [the cus­tomer] took the time to dri­ve to the store. They are there and ready to buy, so our phi­los­o­phy and what you see is store-spe­cif­ic search…which makes the uni­verse of results come from what’s in that store that day,” Cole­man said.

In addi­tion to Tar­get, Cole­man said Point Inside is work­ing with home improve­ment chain Lowe’s, as well as super­mar­ket chain Mei­jer, along with about a dozen oth­er brands.

While Lowe’s has uti­lized Point Inside tech­nol­o­gy for about a year, it recent­ly upped the in-store ante with “autonomous retail ser­vice robots” in a Cal­i­for­nia loca­tion to “study how robot­ics tech­nol­o­gy can ben­e­fit cus­tomers and employ­ees.”

Like Target’s maps and lists, the robots, called OSH­bots, will “assist cus­tomers to quick­ly nav­i­gate stores by direct­ing them to spe­cif­ic prod­ucts and pro­vid­ing real-time infor­ma­tion about prod­uct pro­mo­tions and inven­to­ry,” accord­ing to a press release, adding that OSH­bot will even­tu­al­ly be able to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers in mul­ti­ple lan­guages and remote­ly con­nect with employ­ees at oth­er stores to answer ques­tions.

Using sci­ence-fic­tion pro­to­typ­ing, we explored solu­tions to improve cus­tomer expe­ri­ences by help­ing cus­tomers quick­ly find the prod­ucts and infor­ma­tion they came in look­ing for,” said Kyle Nel, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Lowe’s Inno­va­tion Labs, in a state­ment.

Wal­mart, too, added a “Search My Store” fea­ture to its app ear­li­er this year. Search My Store allows cus­tomers to search a par­tic­u­lar Wal­mart store for “near­ly any item” and will help cus­tomers find the items they need more quick­ly and make shop­ping at Wal­mart “eas­i­er, faster and more acces­si­ble,” accord­ing to a Wal­mart blog post by Vice Pres­i­dent of Mobile and Dig­i­tal Strat­e­gy Wendy Bergh.

Think of it as a per­son­al shop­ping asso­ciate for your local Wal­mart, always with you when­ev­er you need it,” Bergh wrote.

Urban Out­fit­ters was also report­ed­ly installing bea­cons in select stores in order to send mes­sages to shop­pers with the Urban Out­fit­ters app when they enter the store and go into fit­ting rooms.

Fur­ther, accord­ing to Ad Age, Macy’s teamed up with Google to allow con­sumers to search for items on their phones to see what is in stock near them. The prod­uct infor­ma­tion will include details like price, size, and col­or, as well as direc­tions to the store by uti­liz­ing Google’s prox­im­i­ty mar­ket­ing plat­form.

This video from Google+ Your Busi­ness explains more about the Macy’s effort, as well as a case study from Think with Google, which says con­sumers are vis­it­ing stores less dur­ing hol­i­day vis­its but are “bet­ter informed about what they [want] when enter­ing the store” so “each trip [is] more pur­pose­ful.”

Fur­ther, accord­ing to Think with Google’s Dig­i­tal Impact On In-Store Shop­ping study, brands are offer­ing strate­gies like in-store pick­up for items bought online, home deliv­ery of prod­ucts pur­chased in-store and prod­uct avail­abil­i­ty at near­by stores in search results, which yield bet­ter expe­ri­ences for shop­pers and boost the bot­tom line.

The Think with Google case study cites Macy’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, Ser­e­na Pot­ter, who says the retail­er makes sure its local store inven­to­ry is vis­i­ble to con­sumers brows­ing its web­site or Google Search via Google Local Inven­to­ry Ads, which con­nect shop­pers with infor­ma­tion about the prod­ucts they seek.

We can tell her that there are eight of what she wants in her size and desired col­or avail­able right now in the store that’s five blocks away,” Pot­ter said.

What’s more, ear­li­er this year, in-store mobile mar­ket­ing plat­form aisle411 announced func­tion­al­i­ty that will allow shop­pers using Google’s Project Tan­go, which, per a release, is a tech­nol­o­gy used for cre­at­ing 3D maps of indoor spaces with the abil­i­ty to show a user’s pre­cise loca­tion and ori­en­ta­tion, to search for and nav­i­gate to prod­uct loca­tions.

Per the release, the com­bined prod­uct allows users to find spe­cif­ic prod­ucts in a 3D aug­ment­ed real­i­ty expe­ri­ence inside the store.

Aisle411 users can also dis­cov­er per­son­al­ized coupons, offers and rewards that pop out of the shelf along their in-store route, as well as col­lect loy­al­ty rewards for walk­ing down aisles. Aisle411 did not respond to a request for com­ment. How­ev­er, per this video, Aisle411 is work­ing with brands like drug store chain Wal­greens.

Mall map­ping efforts arent entire­ly new. Search engine Bing has had mobile maps for malls since at least 2011. Google Maps, too, has offered mall maps.

What do you think of these mobile map­ping and in-store search efforts so far? Will they be effec­tive in attract­ing hol­i­day shop­pers?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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