In my post on geofencing, I mentioned efforts by a number of retailers to make use of location-based information. There is another perspective on location, that of the provider of the geospatial databases that drive many of the location-aware mobile apps that are being developed. Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI has been one of the leaders in this space. I spoke to two of their key managers about how they work with developers and how their business is changing.
“We have a forty year history of doing location analytics very well,” said Simon Thompson, their Director of Commercial Solutions. “We now offer a wide range of things ranging from sentiment hot spot analysis of social media check-ins to tracking people’s behaviors and matching them up with demographic predictions.”
Location-awareness has gone through an evolution over the past several years, starting with the realization that most of us don’t want to install multiple location apps on our smartphones. “Consumers want valuable insight delivered to them as part of their existing browsing experience,” Thompson said. ESRI can now use anonymous tracking cookies inside the mobile browsers to see where these mobile phones travel and differentiate patterns based on time of day or particular geographies. “This is a much broader segment than just those who check in on Foursquare,” he said. “Location has become an essential data source in a wide variety of apps.”
At its start, ESRI built their mapping APIs for a professional or geo-centric audience, and has lately evolved into a providing a more accessible developer experience. “We wanted to simplify things for the developer who maybe wanted to dip their toe into the shallow end of the pool first and try out location awareness,” said Bronwyn Agrios, ESRI’s Mobile Business Development Manager. Things seem to be working for them: their sales are booming. They are quickly signing up retailer customers and VARs, making this market segment their biggest growth area. “We have most of the big commercial retail chains as customers,” said Thompson.
So are there any special skills needed to take advantage of ESRI’s location APIs? Not really. “Any mobile developer can easily become a location-aware developer,” said Agrios.
One example of an IT-related retail partner of ESRI’s is Aisle411, a service that allows shoppers of more than 12,000 retail stores to pinpoint a particular product on a shelf via an interior map of the store. Say you are trying to find that special sponge but haven’t a clue. You can bring up their app on your smartphone, have it go to the store map of the particular Walgreen’s you are shopping, and it will direct you from your current location to the appropriate aisle. Think of it as an indoor GPS.
Nathan Pettyjohn is their CEO and very happy working with ESRI, who helped with supplying some of the location data for their app. “Retailers have invested billions in their store assets, but there is a big hole in digitizing that asset so that shoppers can navigate their store. What we are trying to do is combine search and location intelligence, to trigger unique shopping experiences.” He mentions that people who use his app convert into actual buyers 93% of the time, a rate that is much higher than the average store browser who uses the old fashioned wander-and-hunt to find items. “ESRI has made it really easy to integrate their mapping interface to set up geo targets and triggers. A developer could try to create this on their own, but there are so many complexities about battery drain and different mobile OS,” he said.
Some might complain that there is too much data in ESRI’s databases. “It can be overwhelming initially, but that is a double-edged sword: it is also very rich too,” said Thompson. It might be time to find your way to their website and take a closer look at what they can offer.