Retailing in the World of the Quantified Self

In a recent webinar conducted by ABI Research, Location Intelligence Practice Leader Patrick Connolly provided an update on the emergence of "ubiquitous location and ambient intelligence." How does ABI define these terms and what's their relevance to mobile location technology and retailing?

First, "ambient Intelligence" according to Connolly, is the ability of a system to appreciate its environment. The same is true of people whereby the individual is aware of their surroundings and can interpret and respond to their individual needs. To Connolly, ambient intelligence is the opposite of big data. Its taking information about one particular user and giving back that user certain services and information relevant to what's around them.

As such, location is key to making ambient intelligence work. Connolly says that we need to understand the person's personal preferences; where have they been in the past and what will be of most interest to them now, taking account of social connections. Ubiquitous location-based information, therefore, is fundamental to making an accurate recommendation.

Where is all this location-based information coming from. Well, we are all quite aware of mobile handsets. But there are new location sensors being added to handsets that support the need for more information with better accuracy. For example, today, iBeacons provide the ability to message individuals with promotions while roaming retail aisles within range of the beacon and these applications are likely to expand. Also, while Bluetooth 2.0 and 4.0 (or Bluetooth Low Energy-BLE) has sub-5 meter accuracy, BLE 2.0, expected by 2016, is likely to have sub-meter accuracy.  And by 2017, LTE-Direct is expected to have users messaging each other within certain proximity. As an example, the application cited for LTE-Direct might be a person looking to sell their tickets outside a stadium and they are looking for buyers; buyers within range and "listening" would be messaged.

According to Connolly, iBeacon technology is the beginning of a revolution. It's low cost and can be used in myriad applications from retailing to healthcare. He said that ABI has to keep updating their market research forecasts for BLE because it has grown so rapidly.

Another result of new sensor technology is something called "the quantified self." Think Fitbit and the ability to monitor an individuals heart rate, sleep patterns, calories burned, etc. As an individual carrying multiple sensors, information flows predictively without prompting. Local search becomes predictive such that your search engine will prompt you for what you need before you need it. For example, Connolly provided this scenario: Today, you're looking for a red sweater? A retailer would contact you and locate the nearest store. But, in four our five years your search request will tell you that the sweater is available, where you can find it; you'll know the manufacturer, if it's in stock and a link to buy it.

Sound too farfetched? In the world of the "quantified self" the retailer might also know that you've put on five pounds and suggest a larger size. Think about it.

Published Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Written by Joe Francica

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