September 1, 2011

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Businesses Leverage Geo-location Technology

Spencer Sutherland

September 1, 2011

No one likes the idea of Big Brother tracking where they go. But what if he was handing out discounts on designer jeans, advance tickets to U2 or two-for-one packages of Jimmy Dean sausages?

The latest advancements in smartphone technology enable businesses to know when customers are nearby and shoot them instant coupons or other enticements to stop by. But, the internal GPS systems on cell phones and tablet devices have exciting implications that go beyond retail sales.

Matt Sheehan, principal at WebMapSolutions, knows a thing or two about location. With a graduate degree from the University of Utah in geographic information systems, he began creating mapping applications before Google Maps even existed.

Sheehan’s company got its start by building mapping applications for the Forest Service. The advent of Google Maps, followed by the proliferation of smartphones, not only brought more attention to the work WebMapSolutions was doing, but exponentially increased the type of applications the company could create, both for the retail world and beyond.

Bringing the Store to You
Maps are nothing new for retailers. Store locations maps have appeared on websites for years, and “you are here” mall kiosks have existed for decades. Mobile apps take those ideas several steps further, not just helping consumers to get to the store, but allowing the retailer to interact with them digitally once they’ve stepped in the door.

“We now have the ability to know where a consumer is and interact with the consumer at the point of sale,” Sheehan says. Here’s a hypothetical example of how a retailer could take advantage of location technology to affect purchasing:

“My wife goes to Costco once a week or so,” Sheehan says. “If she agreed that Costco could track once she enters the store, they could let her know what type of coupons are currently available. Costco knows what she buys there, so when she walks in the door they could ‘push’ coupons on items she has purchased before. She could then scan the coupon right from her smartphone when she reaches the register.”

To maintain privacy, this approach is built on an opt-in model, in which a consumer allows a business to track his or her location only at certain times or within a specific geographic area.

“Nobody would want to be tracked wherever they went,” Sheehan says. “[In this scenario], my wife would say ‘Yes, Costco. I agree that when I am near your store or in your store, you can know my whereabouts and you can deliver me coupons.’ As long as it is a mutual agreement, I think both parties potentially win.”

More than Coupons
Location technology can serve as more than just a promotional tool. Sheehan also works with clients in the facility management industry who are looking to use location devices to make their processes more efficient.

One client tracks air-conditioning technicians sent out on repairs. Currently, when the tech arrives at a job, he calls into a multi-step phone system to check in and enter any additional information.

“The service techs find this an incredibly difficult process to go through, plus it’s an expensive computer system for the management company to operate,” Sheehan says.

Using the GPS built into a standard smartphone, WebMapSolutions created an application that allows the technician to check in at the repair destination and enter his ID and other details. When he completes the job, he then checks back out.

“The process for the service tech becomes much simpler, versus a myriad of menus. It becomes a three-click process and it’s done.”

The application becomes even more powerful when created for a tablet device. The experience begins before the technician ever leaves his house, providing maps to job sites and preferred routes. Once at the location, the tablet can be used for taking pictures, managing files and collecting data.

“The things you can do with location are enormous. It’s in the mind’s eye what you decide you can do. We’re only just at the early stages of what mobile will be.”

Is the iPad the next big thing or just a passing fad? Matt Sheehan of WebMapSolutions says that mobile tablets will eventually replace the need for traditional desktop or laptop computers. Here are two reasons why:

You don’t need the power. “I’m a programmer, so I need a fast processor, lots of RAM, all that good stuff. But most consumers don’t need great big hard drives, lots of memory or a particularly fast processor to do what they want to. A lot of folks use their tablets to check their email, watch Netflix, surf the web or listen to music. None of that takes a lot of umph. In terms of hardware, a lot of people don’t need what they’ve got [with a traditional computer].”

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