Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM made a few headlines earlier this week, but it’s been largely been ignored by the popular press. Just a small start-up acquisition, right? Wrong. Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM is a game changer in two ways. First, it fills a critical gap in Apple’s location and mapping offering, better positioning it to take on Google and Nokia’s extensive indoor location offerings. And, as I wrote last fall, Apple’s focus on maps and location is part of a larger strategic battle taking place.

Second, the acquisition is poised to act as a catalyst – as Apple’s entry into emerging markets so often does – that will ignite a new wave of innovative apps and solutions based on indoor location. To get a better understanding of what indoor location brings to the table, one only has to look at what is taking place in the retail industry, one of the first major industries to embrace indoor location technology. Already, retailers are using indoor location technology to:

  • Build experiences that blur the line between the physical and digital world. Major brands such as Walmart and Walgreens are integrating mobile apps into their in-store experience. Walmart, which already sees 12% of its mobile sales take place in their physical stores, is among a pioneering group of retailers that are building “store mode” apps that use your location to provide store specific ads, promotions, and product information. Walgreens has similar features, but goes further in letting customers search for in-store products and see their location in an in-store map.
  • Improve customer service and deliver on their brand promise. Neiman Marcus is piloting an app that connects customers with their preferred sales associates (along with their past sales history, sizing, and preferences) as soon as they enter the store. This isn’t only good from a relationship standpoint – Neiman Marcus know that customers who shop with the same associate three times spend almost 10 times more than those who go to a random sales clerk. By using indoor location technology to foster these connections, they stand to not only enhance their customer experience but also their bottom line.
  • Increase app engagement and habitual use. A recent study of 25,000 users and over 1 million shopper sessions by Point Inside indicated that users of mobile apps that feature indoor location technologies such as indoor store maps, exact product locations, efficient in-store routing have 5x as many app interactions compared to users of apps lacking indoor location features. Moreover, the fastest growing segment of users was those who used the indoor location-enabled app 5 or more times a month, doubling in size from 17% to 35% of total users.
  • Reach less loyal customers. While loyal customers are likely to download store-specific apps, many customers won’t, making it difficult for retailers to reach them. To reach these customers, brands such as BestBuy, Target and Walgreens are partnering with RedLaser to deliver offers and information to these less loyal customers as soon as they enter their stores. By leveraging the location capabilities of RedLaser, downloaded by over 24 million times, is giving retailers (and brands that don’t have a physical presence) the ability to geofence stores and locations and target customers who enter those areas.  

While retail is among the first markets to embrace indoor location, its impact will be felt in every industry – especially those with a physical presence (hospitality & travel, restaurants, entertainment & sports, etc.). After all, people spend nearly 90% of their lives indoors and knowing exactly where they are fills a big gap in your company’s ability to deliver the right services and offers to the right person at the right time and place.

Let the games begin!

I'll be speaking more on how location (indoors and out) deepens customer engagement at Forrester's Marketing Leadership Forum in LA, April 18-19. Or, join my colleagues in London at the Marketing Leadership Forum EMEA on May 21-22 to learn more about creating brand advantage with perpetually connected customers.