How Apple and Google will use tech to revolutionise how we shop in stores

by: Andy McCormick on 26 March 2013

Apple's purchase of WiFi SLAM adds momentum to mobile's place in the in-store experience

The battle for the shopping basket is on. With Apple's recent purchase of WiFi SLAM and Google's progress in location mapping, we're all going to have a new in-store experience that will save us money

We all know how digital technology has shaped the New Customer Journey.

People get inspiration online for their next purchase, they research through search, social and price comparison and also often buy online. (Google's landmark ZMOT study gives us a lot of detail on this).

But when people enter stores they often put their mobile phone away, concentrate on what's in front of them perhaps with advice from a friend, perhaps not.

Developments from Apple and Google and others are likely to change this very soon, though.

Apple + WiFiSLAM = in-store revolution

Apple's purchase this week of WiFiSLAM for around $20m (£13m) tells us that the battle for control of the digital experience in-store is going to be big. A look at WiFiSLAM's company description tells us so:

'Allow your smartphone to pinpoint its location (and the location of your friends) in real-time to 2.5m accuracy using only ambient WiFi signals that are already present in buildings.We are building the next generation of location-based mobile apps that, for the first time, engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place. Applications range from step-by-step indoor navigation, to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking.'

'Retail customer engagement' is the key phrase here. If brands can give me a discount at the moment they know I'm looking at their products on a shelf, that's a pretty compelling proposition. If they can send me an immediately redeemable voucher tempting me to try a product I haven't tried before, I might well buy it.

Apple is not alone

Until now, in-store marketing has failed to undergo the change in technology that other stages of the customer journey have. Uninspiring cardboard cut-outs, end-of-aisle promotions, tasting stalls and paid-for window displays hardly smack of 21st century marketing.

Apple can change this. But it's not alone in its intention.

At SXSW Interactive 2013 in March, Google revealed some of the developments that have emerged from Google X, its 'moonshot' big ideas department. These include driverless cars, voice recognition technology and the ability to make the blue dot on Google Maps a lot more accurate.

The blue dot development sounds completely underwhelming compared to the other game-changing technologies but, as an advertising company, Google knows the importance of accurate location data.

For Google, the inventor of intentional marketing, the goal of having people use their platform while in-store is potentially worth billions.

As with most technologies rolled out by Apple and Google and others, there is almost always someone doing it before them.

We've covered how Point Inside partnered with Meijer in the US to provide a connected in-store experience. The above video gives a simplified run down of what Point Inside offers brands including indoor maps, in-store search, a product locator, shopping lists, efficient routing, personalised product offers, geo-fencing and insight for retailers.

What to expect

For the customer, convenience is more in price discounts than not having to ask members of staff where to find the beansprouts. But there are multiple benefits for both retailer and customer.

Realistically, it will be a couple of years before stores offer this type of service. Before then we'll see a landgrab from retailers desperate to have their own proprietary technology. Then there are the brands who will want to have as much control as possible in this crucial part of the customer journey.

The potential of this technology has been evident for a while. But with Apple and Google joining the fray the battle for the most crucial part of the customer journey is on, and we'll track it over time as it plays out.