9 Killer Location Features for Retailer Mobile Apps

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Forty-three percent of consumers have had a retailer’s app on their smartphone for more than a year, but despite that type of loyalty, this category of branded mobile apps still has a long way to go. Retailer apps have a reputation for being bulky and unnecessary, and for taking up space on consumers’ phones without delivering enough benefit.

Going forward, the key for retailers looking to gain traction with their branded mobile apps will be integration with more location-based components. Twenty-seven percent of consumers in a poll by GPShopper and comScore cited location-specific tools as the most important feature of a retailer’s mobile app. The way that retailers integrate location into their apps goes beyond what’s visible on the consumers’ end. Beacon technology, digital location indexing, and even background location detection can compliment features like store locator maps and smart checkouts.

“To implement a successful mobile strategy, retailers should look to solve shoppers’ problems. Many times a simple solution, such as the ability to see if a product is in stock, meets shoppers’ needs more effectively than something more complicated,” says Mike McMurray, SVP of marketing and business operations at Point Inside, which works with retailers such as Target and Lowe’s. “By laying a strong digital foundation, starting small, and testing, retailers can implement the best technology to meet their shoppers’ needs.”

We asked hyperlocal experts what they see as the most important location features for retailers to include in their mobile apps. Here’s what they said.

1. Digital location indexing “Before considering which location features to include in their mobile apps, retailers must first digitally index their physical stores so they know where everything is located, including products, services, and other points of interests. Digitally indexing a store provides retailers the foundation for more interactive features in their mobile apps and mobile web, including store-specific product search, product availability and location features, in-store mapping and navigation, mobile coupons, indoor location and beacons.” (Mike McMurray, Point Inside)

2. Smart contextual beacons “As advanced location-based features gain traction, companies will need to think very hard about use cases. Spamming users based on their geographic location alone will get an application deleted very quickly. One way to get around this is by adding contextual awareness to the mix. For example, if you have beacons distributed around your store and tagged with metadata about the type of sections they represent, then you can potentially track the user’s visits to certain sections and provide valuable notifications including incentives when a user visits a section multiple times or lingers for a long period of time. If you add in past purchase data for that user, your application will be able to give incredibly intelligent notifications to the user that they will want to receive.” (Evan Rose, Rose Digital)

3. Background location detection “Don’t require customers to open your app to receive benefits. Location detection and other contextual triggers can be implemented to run in the background so consumers can be notified of relevant offers proactively and at the right place or time. By adding device analytics to loyalty apps as a background service, just like mobile operators do, the analytics will run even when the app is shut, giving you 10x to 20x more audience coverage and a ton of insights that will help you enhance your mobile strategy.” (Carla Fitzgerald, Smith Micro)

4. Geo-fencing around the competition “[Retailers should use] geo-fencing around their stores and their competitors’ stores, to learn how many of their branded app users are shopping with them versus their competition, then using that intelligence to target frequent visitors to competitors, with win-back campaigns, either in-app, on mobile web or on desktop. We call this ‘share of foot traffic” conquesting.” (David Dague, Gravy)

5. Location confirmations at checkout “If you can streamline checkout using a location confirmation that [confirms] the customer is in-store, as the Apple Store app does, that can create a wonderful and seamless customer experience. The best way to see the location confirmation business in action is to go to an Apple Store and use the Apple Store app. You can use it to buy something under a price limit without even talking to salesperson. Unfortunately, developing a system like this is much more expensive that your typical store locator, so it’s not very common.” (Allen Pike, Steamclock)

6. Concierge assistance “In order to receive timely assistance and efficient customer service, allow shoppers to request assistance and advertise their in-store location to store associates, based on their proximity to beacons. An example would be a shopper who is in a large store and needs help. Using the concierge button in the app, in-store beacons will triangulate the shopper’s position, sending the customer’s information and location to a customer service associate who can find the shopper and attend to their needs.” (Shekar Raman, Birdzi)

7. In-store pickup “In-store pickup is an excellent feature to offer, as it gives customers the flexibility to buy items online and pick them up in a store, thus avoiding queues in-store or waiting time for scheduled delivery. By using a combination of geofencing and iBeacon technology, this feature can be easily provided in the app. When a consumer who has placed a ‘click-and-collect’ order comes within a certain predefined radius of the store, a notification is sent to the store, prompting the in-store staff to keep the order ready for pick up.” (Seema Nayak, Beaconstac)

8. Interior store maps “With the precise data available from geo-fencing and beacons, apps can take advantage of interior maps. An interior map basically serves as a blueprint of the inside of your store and allows customers to easily navigate while indoors. Your indoor mapping feature will even allow customers to switch their map based on what floor they’re on, easily find the products they’re looking for, and find points of interest such as your information or return counters.” (Tom Desaulniers, Go2mobi)

9. Location-based welcoming flows “For the braver retailer, there are some very interesting possibilities for delivering value added services through a mobile application. One option is to offer free Wi-Fi to all customers within a geo-fence around the store. Along with that Wi-Fi, you can prompt a download of your application and then present a location-based welcome and ‘onboarding’ flow which guides the users to the areas of the store they are hoping to go to or sales attendants who can be helpful.” (Evan Rose, Rose Digital)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.