Smart technology is providing a boost to the retail sector by helping shoppers navigate through stores.

This wayfinding trend is part of the “Internet of Everything” (IOE) approach, which will eventually see digital connectivity at the centre of everyone’s daily lives.

David Dorf, senior director of technology strategy for Oracle Retail, described IOE as a movement “characterised by the automated transmission of information over a network, without need for human interaction.”

IT firm Cisco predicts that IOE will be a $19 trillion global opportunity over the next decade.

“Private-sector firms can create as much as $14.4 trillion of value while cities, governments and other public-sector organizations can create $4.6 trillion,” the firm said.

In terms of brick and mortar retail, IOE strategies are being applied as digital signage, touch points and wireless technology that gathers shopper demographic and “journey” information.

In late 2012, Nordstrom conducted a controversial experiment in which they teamed with Euclid Analytics (also known as the “Google Analytics for the physical world”) to test a new technology that measured smartphone signals via a WiFi antenna to determine several factors including shoppers in store, those who chose not to enter, repeat visitors and how long shoppers were in a certain department.

Nordstrom using WiFi mapping technology to gather shopper information

Nordstrom using WiFi mapping technology to gather shopper information


Macy’s, which partnered with technology firm Nomi, took a similar approach, utilising WiFi to track how shoppers moved throughout the store and sending them communication via their smartphones upon entering the store.

“I walk into Macy’s, Macy’s knows that I just entered the store, and they’re able to give me a personalized recommendation through my phone the moment I enter the store,” Nomi president Corey Capasso told The New York Times. “It’s literally bringing the Amazon experience into the store.”

While some consumers are finding IOE intrusive and have concerns over cyber security, it really isn’t very different to online shopping. Many retailers see it as the physical version of e-commerce, where information such as cookies is collected to track shoppers’ online moves.

Others consumers are actually enjoying the digital helping hand.

Upon entering a store, consumers can be notified of current sales and directions on how to find them. For returning visitors, their favourite labels can notify them of any promotions.

For retailers, the benefits are endless with IOE wayfinding generally referred to as a “silent salesman” helping track and aid a shopper’s journey. It can create a helpful experience in which navigating through a store is seamless and efficient.

“The process of establishing an effective system of signage and wayfinding looks to anticipate these issues by planning a user’s journey, and anticipating the information they will need in order to build up a mental or ‘cognitive’ map of the space they are in,” according to global architecture and design firm GHD Woodhead.

In a project the firm completed that was part of a $20 million refurbishment of the Smithfield Shopping Centre in Cairns, GHD Woodhead’s revised signage and wayfinding helped to ensure smooth traffic flow throughout the centre and increase exposure to smaller tenancies in the complex.

In another project, Abuzz was commissioned to complete the wayfinding solution for Westfield’s $12 billion development in Pitt Street, Sydney in 2010.

According to the firm, “the solution had to allow (Westifield) to manage the digital content across multiple devices and screens of different sizes including digital directional signage, touchscreen wayfinding, a huge video wall and multiple digital screens throughout the centre.”

The 100 screens across the centre allow Westfield to customise displays, change signage for new tenants and help guide shoppers to promotions. There are even multi-lingual translations for tourists on the interactive interface systems.

The other trending application with IOE in retail is the use of wireless sensing, tracking and RFID technology.

American Apparel, which has more than 300 stores around the world, has attached RFID tags to each product and installed RFID system locations around the store, allowing staff to quickly find items for customers.

Apple’s iBeacon interacts with iOS devices and can send a welcoming or marketing message to customers as they enter a store, sports venue, art or theatre space for example.

Lori Schafer, executive adviser of retail for analytics company SAS Institute told CBS that low energy beacons are transforming the retail industry as more retailers realise the potential of mobile analytics.

Unlike Wi-Fi trackers, messages received via beacons and Bluetooth require prior “opt-in” or for users to have downloaded the retailer’s smart application.

Schafer added that the power of marketing directly to consumers at the “point of decision” can be paramount to a retailer’s success, as customers begin to get used to the idea of receiving targeted advertisements, messages and promotions while they are shopping.

Another form of Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons has been demonstrated in technology such as RooMaps.

RooMaps enables high-precision indoor positioning utilsing Bluetooth and filtering technology with an accuracy of less than two metres indoors.

The technology is based on the fact that on average, people spend 80 per cent of their time indoors and that traditional location-based services are not always available inside buildings due to a lack of GPS signal.

The company achieves indoor positioning with beacons and applies its own filtering technology.

Lastly, technology like the findbox GmbH can detect 3D objects carried by customers and suggest aligning products (such as a battery) on the store’s shelf or in stock. The findbox comes with an additional add-on LightGuide system that can actually light up the product on the shelf so customers can easily find it.

Rather than relying on barcodes, findbox “merges recorded images into a 3D mesh and performs a series of tests.”

The 3D images the technology detects “are analysed, colours extracted and compared, texts read, logos, shapes and icons evaluated and matched with the database in three seconds with the help of data mining algorithms,” the company states.

The find box can currently detect ink cartridges, light bulbs, cell phones, batteries, screws and other various spare parts, making it very useful for stationary or tool retailers.

This technology is coming to a store near you – if it isn’t there already. The only question is: is it helpful or is it intrusive?