Have you ever gotten lost at the mall? Most likely. Some say it’s part of the game; however a number of shopping centres are implementing frameworks and technologies that can sustain foot traffic yet won’t make you feel you are trapped in a “shopping maze”.
“GPS gets you to the shopping mall but doesn’t work inside,” stated Roger McKinlay to the Smithsonian Institution in December 2017, a navigation specialist and former president of the UK’s Royal Institute of Navigation. He added that “The signals are weak and the receiver has no hope of finding four signals, which have not been bounced around. So other forms of positioning are needed.”
A report from research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the indoor location market, which includes indoor navigation as well as indoor data tracking, could be worth $41 billion by 2022.
Such systems use a number of technologies such as WiFi, radio waves and magnetic fields. Many current systems utilize WiFi or Bluetooth beacons installed around a given location, which can communicate with a user’s phone and offer real-time directions similar to GPS.
Microsoft Path Guide help users find a place or room inside a location, even if GPS is not available. The app will “navigate by tracing the path created by a ‘leader’ a person who has been to the location before and has uploaded the path followed by him. The updated or traced path by the ‘leader’ will help new users visiting the place to get to the location easily”.
Finnish company IndoorAtlas uses geomagnetic technology, utilizing the metal in buildings’ construction materials and phones’ built-in magnetic compasses to find and track users. This can be combined with WiFi and beacons to add features such as “proximity marketing” (advertising directly to a user when they approach a specific store).
Toronto-based Mapsted eliminates the need for beacons, potentially making it cost-effective relative to other indoor navigation offerings. It works without WiFi, Bluetooth or an internet connection. Users simply launch the Mapsted app and start navigating. Mapsted requires no data connection and uses very little battery power, hence it can be efficient and cost-effective for users as well.
Lost? Talk to a robot
By now, you might be familiar with digital conversational agents, commonly referred to as “chatbots”. Malls are increasingly interested in implementing such into their customer service frameworks.
The Mall of America in Minnesota (the biggest shopping centre in the United States in total area) has recently launched a conversational agent initiative. In December 2017, the mall introduced a new app designed by Satisfi Labs. The retail chatbot “can field complex questions and even guide shoppers to specific stores in the mall based on their location”. It is available via the Mall of America website, mobile app, Facebook page, and Amazon Alexa.
Additionally, three semi-humanoid Pepper robots conceived by SoftBank Robotics are on hand to guide lost shoppers to their desired store or attraction; and can even provide suggestions.
As new retail infrastructures and technologies are being put to use, “I got lost at the mall” might become a seldom-used phrase.
By Phil Siarri