Why Apple Uses GIS Inside Its Stores

GIS minds enjoy problem solving, learning new technology, and calculating exactly how those skills can be applied to businesses. A GIS degree gives you the tools to help corporations and retailers improve business using visual data to determine buying habits and strategy based on GIS data.

Expect stores, and other businesses that have customers come into corporate locations, to extend their use of physical tracking and analysis of the resulting data.

Apple is one of the smartest retailers around, with an understanding of design and marketing that translate into success. The company’s sales per square foot of store space — a common retail metric — even put Tiffany & Co. to shame. Such a smart operator constantly looks to improve its performance by using technology. Apple’s latest addition is GIS — geographic information systems — is an unusual way. Typically what one might learn in GIS degree programs is that GIS can help retailers in such ways as finding new locations, segmenting customers and improving supply chain operations. All that is true. Apple is simply taking up a newer development, according to reports: in-store tracking.

iOS 7’s flashy launch earlier this year overshadowed a breakthrough new feature: iBeacons, a location-based technology with profound implications for industries such as retail. An iBeacon system could allow a store to install transmitters that would wirelessly connect to an iPhone and tell the phone its location with respect to items on shelves. This iPhone could then perform additional functionality if it is equipped with a specialized application.

Although iBeacon has uses beyond retail, the basic concept of tracking consumers inside stores isn’t new. Chains used to do this manually, taking physical counts of people and using photographs and videos to understand how traffic moves inside a store. But that is time-consuming and complicated, so retailers have begun to use Wi-Fi tracking of smartphones instead. The stores are essentially implementing GIS, only looking at location within stores, rather than a larger geographic concept. The data they get can be invaluable to improving operations:

  • Stores can identify which combinations of promotions and locations are the most effective.
  • By noting how people move through a store and whether they approach registers, management can better examine whether consumers are finding what they want and if they come looking for something specific or are just browsing.
  • Stores can correlate purchases with traffic patterns to see how interest in various combinations of goods might predict behavior.
  • Because smartphones have unique network identifiers to use Wi-Fi, a chain can also see who has visited other of its locations.
  • Executives can examine the real-world implications of changes in store design before rolling a modification out to all of its locations.

Ultimately, retailers will want to combine this information with data from other sales channels to see how customers interact with them overall. But that requires personally identifying customers, which could lead to privacy concerns and possibly even regulatory implications.

Expect stores, and other businesses that have customers come into corporate locations, to extend their use of physical tracking and analysis of the resulting data.

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