How Mobile Location Data Is Ushering in the Next Era of Brick-and-Mortar Business
Startups such as Glympse and UberMedia are using location sharing, mobile behavior data, and new geofencing technologies to change the way physical businesses engage customers.
By Rob Marvin
The e-commerce boom is a byproduct of the Internet age. The Amazons and Alibabas of the world let consumers browse, shop, and buy anything their hearts desire with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen. Online sales during shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday rise every year — along with the percentage of e-commerce sales making up every retailer’s profit margin.
What’s not talked about nearly as often is how that same ease of use and access to technology — mobile tech in particular — is changing the way businesses attract, engage, and drive customers to the point-of-sale (POS). We’ve seen the ubiquitous power of smartphones at work during the Pokémon Go craze, driving droves of players to Pokéstops, Pokémon gyms, and any local business that drops a Lure. Mobile innovations in brick-and-mortar businesses are everywhere and have been for a while.
Walmart and other major retailers have started using mobile technology to revolutionize the in-store retail experience. Payment technology is a whole new ballgame, too. There are more easy, mobile-driven ways to pay and process payments than ever, thanks to startups such as Square and Stripe, and innovations such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. Credit card providers such as MasterCard and Visa are even creating an Internet of Payments, made up of payment-chip–enabled wearables, clothing, jewelry, and more.
Businesses are beginning to realize that any time consumers walk into a store, they’re carrying a treasure trove of data and contextual engagement in their pockets. Location-based marketing (LBM) is already changing how salespeople approach customer relationship management (CRM), but startups are coming up with new and innovative ways to use mobile location data every day.
Companies such as Glympse and UberMedia leverage smartphone location data in a host of ways. UberMedia measures advertising effectiveness and uses new ways of geofencing to optimize retail store location and efficiency, while Glympse uses location sharing to streamline complex logistics and transform the delivery experience for drivers and customers. We talked to both companies about the innovative ways they’re using mobile location data to change business, and what brick-and-mortar problems and opportunities they aim to tackle next.
UberMedia and the Mantra of ‘Location, Location, Location’
Not to be confused with ride-hailing giant Uber, UberMedia is a mobile ad platform startup with a suite of products for both marketers and businesses. For marketers, the company does mobile behavioral-based advertising, business intelligence (BI) based on mobile behavioral data, and location measurement for advertisers.
According to UberMedia, the company collects 1.2 billion location data points per day coming from mobile app-based ad-tracking data on smartphones. It uses that behavioral location data to help retailers in different ways. For example, UberRetail aids retailers in making real estate decisions on new store locations and store closings according to mobile traffic patterns, and Location Visit Optimization (LVO) analyzes retail store traffic based on who viewed a particular ad campaign.
“The business intelligence data we collect is for any business with a physical retail location. That could be a retailer like Macy’s, it could be a car dealership, a restaurant, Walmart, Target, you name it,” said Michael Hayes, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at UberMedia. “We then measure [ad] campaigns to optimize real-world location visits. So if there’s a Macy’s ad campaign running on a mobile device, we then measure whether that device goes into Macy’s.”
UberMedia also recently announced a new patent-pending tool called Optimal GeoSpace, which the company said improves upon traditional geofencing by using real-time location data to “dynamically render a customized virtual fence around individual retail shopping areas” based on shopping foot-traffic patterns, time of day, and the type of retail business. As Hayes explained, UberMedia built its own satellite image-based location technology: “Polygons” serve as custom geolocated maps around a brick-and-mortar business location.
“If you’re in an auto mall or a high-density metro area, traditional geofences might make it difficult to tell whether a device is on the Honda lot, the Toyota lot, or the Kia lot; whether you’re in Macy’s or in the McDonalds or the Subway next door,” said Hayes. “We’ve hand-drawn hundreds of thousands of custom polygons that are accurate within three feet to a location. We have every major car dealership for every major brand, every big-box retailer, quick-service restaurant, college campus, stadiums, arenas, convention centers, even beaches and golf courses. We took the top 100 advertisers and created custom polygons around not just Walmarts, for instance, but all their competitors and the areas those advertisers are interested in.”
Put the mobile ad data and location data together, as Hayes explained, and UberMedia tracks device behavior moving in and out of polygons to figure out where customers are going before and after store visits and whether it’s tied to ad impact. The company uses this location-driven BI in what it calls Cross-Shopping Reports, Incremental Lift Reports showing the additive foot traffic from an advertising campaign, and competitive analysis reports for customers.
These customers include major retail brands such as Adidas, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, Nike; motel chains such as Best Western; restaurant chains such as Wendy’s and Panera Bread; a stable of auto manufacturing brands; and entertainment corporations such as Disney and NBC Universal. The combined polygon and device behavior data also feeds into the Optimal GeoSpace tool.
“Every location’s optimal shopping area is different. We use an algorithm based on more than a year’s worth of location data to dynamically create these boundary boxes based on the customer’s path to purchase,” said Hayes. “We scrub or purge about 75 percent of the location data we collect because it’s of poor quality and [we] only keep the most accurate, high-quality data. And then polygons allow you to understand place context and also show you a heat map of mobile activity.”
Glympse and the Future of Location Sharing
Glympse, makers of the popular consumer location-sharing app, is another startup that, through its initial product, found itself with a mountain of location and customer behavior data from millions of smartphones. That data serves as the foundation of Glympse for Business, the company’s custom-branded service that provides real-time location update and logistics coordination features for businesses — from Pizza Hut to cable providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable, and a number of car manufacturers.
David Troll, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations at Glympse, said the rise of location-based mobile apps such as Uber have created a consumer expectation where every customer wants to know exactly where something or someone is, be it a driver, a package, or any other type of transportable good or service.
“As Glympse started looking at the commercial market and what businesses can do with location data around customer engagement, it turned out to be a lot,” said Troll. “Industry after industry, from package delivery and food service to cable and telecommunications, pest control, commercial office repair, and industrial appliances, mobile location becomes a critical part of the digital customer experience.”
Troll said Glympse is deployed in more than 600 million endpoints and that the startup is positioning itself to facilitate the growing ecosystem of commercial applications and glean location data from every form of connected device in or entering the market, be it connected cars, wearables, or Internet of Things (IoT) devices. As for how the company is using that location data in real-world business, Troll described how the technology works for different customers, including Pizza Hut and Time Warner Cable.
“For Pizza Hut, we deliver the driver app for the entire employee experience, from getting the orders to managing workflows. The app will say something like, ‘We know you’re busy hustling to get this pizza delivered, so just swipe here to acknowledge the order,’” said Troll. “Then the customer gets the experience of tracking the location of that vehicle on the map, which they can access through a link, an SMS text, a push notification, etc. For customers like Time Warner, we’re behind the scenes embedded in their workflow, helping them miss fewer appointments and notify customers of arrival and departure.”
Glympse also uses location data to track usage patterns and frequency of service based on desired business outcomes: Pizza Hut wants more orders, Time Warner wants fewer service calls. Troll explained that, by using mobile location data, Glympse can do things such as optimize the number of daily deliveries per Pizza Hut driver. And based on the customer interaction data — how they rated the experience, for example — Pizza Hut can then upsell the customer, for example, to add a bottle of Pepsi to their two large pepperoni pizzas.
Troll said Glympse also sees greater opportunities to optimize delivery and logistics for delivery services such as FedEx and UPS, adding incremental location data on top of those services to improve the customer experience. The key, he said, is using location sharing to feed into the evolution of the on-demand service economy.
“Let’s take UPS. If I want to deliver to your house but you’re not home, I have a couple options. I can make you come to my depot and leave a yellow tag on the door, I can come back again (which isn’t profitable), or I can try to connect with you,” said Troll. “Let’s say Glympse sends you a simple notification that the driver is on their way. But if you’re not home and Glympse is integrated with your car or home automation system, you could remote-unlock your trunk from anywhere; [it’s] better than leaving the package on your front step.”
The trunk analogy also feeds into what Glympse is doing with location sharing in the automotive industry. In vehicles from manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen, vehicles can be enabled to share a Glympse location via one-touch navigation, and tie in with business partnerships through dynamic Points of Interest (POI), enabling features in the future such as checking the Glympse app to find out where your autonomous car parked itself. Troll said car companies are looking at future business models and positioning themselves more as digital service providers to attract new customers.
“The starting point with the automotive UI [user interface] is to share a Glympse, but from there, you can funnel dynamic POIs onto your map to see Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, schools, hospitals, and common locations of family and friends,” said Troll. At the enterprise level, he added that businesses are looking into Glympse for rental car location services and for better roadside assistance so “the service truck coming to tow the car shares their location with the mom who’s stranded on the side of the road with her two kids in the back seat.”
Troll also stressed that privacy is critical to Glympse, and that the company is not using consumer or commercial data in any way except on behalf of specific customers. Looking ahead to where Glympse might go from here, Troll sees mobile location data and services as a kind of glue to tie the tech ecosystem together in what he called the “Internet of Moving Things.”
“Location data is connecting automotive companies, enterprise customers, platform companies, voice activation companies; it’s a huge opportunity,” said Troll. “To us, it’s the ‘Internet of Moving Things.’ IoT is about devices that have a fixed location but people and devices aren’t fixed. We’re deploying ourselves into this ecosystem of all these wearables and phones and cars because we want to connect everyone around location sharing in ways that facilitate better commercial interactions with customers.”
Read more: “5 Ways @WalmartLabs Is Revolutionizing Mobile Retail”
This story originally appeared on PCMag.com.