An Obvious But Unused Application of Geofencing + Mobile in Retail

I’m sitting here at the Orlando Airport, waiting for my flight, thinking about everything I learned during my second trip to the eTail Connect conference. As usual, it was a fantastic experience, with a lot of great conversations with a lot of really smart people in the e-commerce industry. We discussed issues like fraud, personalization, payment processing, social sign-in, loyalty, communication strategies and a lot more … but of all the conversations I had, there’s one in particular that keeps coming back to me.

During the cocktail reception the first night, I met with my friend John and we were discussing his company’s geofencing and beacon technologies. As I currently work in a pureplay dotcom, geofencing isn’t of that much use to me – but it’s a topic I’ve always found interesting. Just being part of the retail community, what’s going on in omnichannel always fascinates me, as they deal with different variations of the problems I deal with, and have to look for other solutions and integrations that make sense across their physical and digital presences.

Anyway, we were talking about geofencing and beacons and I told John how impressed I’ve been with Target’s use of the technology so far. Even things like little reminders to use my cartwheel app when I’m in store are great uses of the tech, as I often forget about Cartwheel until I’m at checkout, and by then it’s too late for me to start looking at offers or scanning my products in the cart. The reminder as I walk in the door has been helping me here considerably.

We talked about this and other uses geofencing has been helpful in, and as we talked we got onto the subject of how the tech can be used to help guide you around the store to help find the departments and items you might be looking for. Then came the “eureka” moment.

My wife and I recently built a new house with a nice deck overlooking our creek. We want to spend more time out there enjoying the view, but the patio furniture we had was not quite matching the style of the new house – so we were in market for something new. Target had exactly what we were looking for, a little chat set called Carag, but every time we went to the store we found out it wasn’t in stock (and they didn’t sell it online). So we kept checking back. Sometimes we’d call, but othertimes we’d just ask when we were in the store for another shopping reason.

The problem I kept running into though was that there was never anyone working in the patio section – at least no one I could find. I had a simple question: do you have this in a box in back? All I needed to do was ask an associate and they could check and if so, they just had a $200 sale. As I discussed this experience with my John I thought of all the other times I’ve been in stores and wanted something or had a question but needed to track down an associate to get help (I actually had a similar experience at Target again the other day when I wanted a new Fitbit but needed someone to get it for me from their locked areas).

So, this all leads to my big question / idea: Why don’t stores add in “call for assistance” into their apps? Sure, a few stores have buttons on kiosks for this, but again you still have to hunt to find them (just like hunting for an associate). With geofencing and beacon technology, working in conjunction with your store app, you should be able to easily allow your shoppers to tap a button to request help, then send a ping with the rough location to your sales associates, telling them where you are and that you need some assistance. In an ideal experience, I’d tap the button, the associate would get pinged, and I’d be told to hold tight for a few minutes because someone is on their way to exactly where I am.

Since I don’t work in physical retail, I have no idea how many sales are lost simply due to customers not being able to find an associate at the time they have a question. What I do know is that I’ve walked out of stores plenty of times when I went in with intent to purchase, but wasn’t able to get the help I needed to get the product / close the sale.

It’s a pretty simple use of the technology, but it would give customers the ability to ask for help when they need it, where they need it, rather than hope that an associate and a guest would cross paths at the right time in-store.

So there you go stores. Go do this.

… and while you’re at it, let me pay for my purchase in-store with my phone, so I don’t have to wait in lines. Barnes and Noble, I’m looking at you in particlar … you don’t want to know how many piles of books I’ve not bought because your lines were too long and slow, and then just put them on a table, walked out the door and bought them on Amazon instead. But that’s for another conversation.


You should totally share this.

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