Retailers Introduce Indoor Navigation In Apps

Shoppers have a new compass to help them navigate the American retail jungle — their phone

Big-box retailers are developing indoor navigation tools to help shoppers find what they want. Some, including Target and Walgreens, have stored floor layout plans in smartphone apps. Walmart and Home Depot apps now can display aisle numbers for searched items.

In a store, “I can talk to an associate, but I can’t search for a two-sided tape,” says Gibu Thomas, Walmart head of mobile and digital. “Mobile brings the (online store) to the store.”

Within two weeks of Walmart’s May launch of the “In-Store” mode in its app, about 15% of page views were from shoppers in stores.

Retailers traditionally were reluctant, for competitive reasons, to release detailed merchandising data. But with mobile apps becoming a key sales channel, they’ve begun adding coupons, prices, store hours and bar code scanners.

Now they’re betting that item locators will help customers shop more efficiently and, as a result, buy more. About 20% of retail sales are lost because shoppers can’t find items, estimates Nathan Pettyjohn, CEO of Aisle411, an app with 9,000 store maps. A locator also can attract customers who need only an item or two and would avoid a big-box store, lest they waste time.

Nudging customers to share what they buy also gives retailers data for merchandising, inventory control and personalized deals.

Some efforts underway:

Walgreens. The chain partnered with Aisle411 to list store layouts in the Aisle411 app. Customers can make shopping lists and the items are spotted on their store’s map. Next month, Walgreens will embed the feature in its own app, says Abhi Dhar, chief technology officer.

Walmart. In May, Walmart’s app began showing the aisle number for a majority of items. And this year it is expanding last year’s Black Friday test of paper store maps locating popular items to add digital maps for Black Friday in the app.

Home Depot. With about 40,000 items in its stores, finding them is a common complaint at the home-improvement chain, says Matt Jones, manager of mobile. Last year, it added to its app store maps and aisle numbers of searched items. It hopes to locate items more specifically, but with so many items, accuracy and consistency from store to store is “a big challenge,” he says.

Start-ups. Several start-ups are pursuing item-locator technology to be used independently or licensed by retailers. Aislefinder collects aisle locations by calling stores individually and has about 5,300 stores in its app. Meijer, a retail chain in the Midwest, uses technology from Point Inside that shows the location of items on a map.

Reprinted from USA Today (August 29, 2012)