by Calvin Cheng -- September 15, 2014

In the movie Minority Report, the year is 2054 and John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is fitfully walking through a shopping mall, where he is bombarded with personalized promotions from Lexus, Guinness, Bulgari, and American Express.  One of the ads, sensing his stress level, offers him a personalized message to relax: "John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now."

More than Science Fiction

Great science-fiction movies have a reputation for introducing new trends and technology to their viewership, and it is exciting to see that some elements of John Anderton's experience are available today.  For example, Shopkick uses in-store devices that recognize the mobile phones of registered customers as they physically enter stores and offer them personalized loyalty rewards.  Though still early in its anticipated development (at least by John Anderton’s standards), Shopkick’s devices do improve the effectiveness of location based services, especially in an indoor shopping environment. 

More recently, there has been a lot of buzz about beacon technology and Apple's version of iBeacons (see my colleague Ben Burke’s post about iBeacons here).  Beacons are now being considered in non-retail applications, too.  One such example is in airports, where beacons can be used to notify passengers of flight changes and gate assignments, even for indoor locations where mobile, Wi-Fi, and GPS signals are traditionally weak.

Too much hype?

A great deal of hype has been paid to the "Internet of Things," so much so that the topic presently sits at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Gartner Hype cycle. This is not to say that connected devices/sensors and the Internet of Things lack credibility.  Other technologies that have previously survived the hype and subsequently reached the “Plateau of Productivity” (commercial adoption) include speech recognition (Siri and "Ok, Glass/Google") and consumer telematics (Toyota’s Entune platform).  Let's face it, if the Toyota Camry has commercialized telematics, how far-fetched and risky can it be?
 
Let’s get real

So what does that mean for the Internet of Things?  When used independently, connected sensors and devices are not very useful.  However, when these same connected sensors, streaming data, and mobile applications are used together in a manner that is well-designed and relevant, they present a powerful opportunity.

Companies that have brick-and-mortar locations (e.g. retailers, restaurants, banks, and hospitals) are combining different data sources including connected sensors, mobile devices, and in-store video to optimize their physical layouts to deliver engaging and differentiated customer experiences.  One company that is helping retailers in this space is ShopperTrak, which aggregates and analyzes sensor data,  in-store video data, and visualization on web and mobile devices for brands to optimize the customer experience.  The ShopperTrak platform provides analytics and insights for brands to understand customer traffic patterns and shopping behavior within a store’s micro-zones. These insights have been used to improve marketing effectiveness, product placement and merchandising, and sales conversion.

Where to Next?

This type of real-time, streaming data from indoor sensors can be used by retailers and consumer products companies to optimize floor plans, product placement on shelves, and manage customer flow patterns through stores.  At scale, this data can be used for developing mobile apps to recognize individual customers in the time, location, and context that is relevant to them, and provide personalized content and in-store support for registered users who opt-in for such a service. 

Connected sensors that are indoor and accurate can allow customers to have a personalized experience similar to that of John Anderton as he was walking through the mall in Minority Report.   Speaking for myself, I'm pretty sure that the conversion rates would be pretty high each time I heard, "Calvin, you could use a Guinness right about now." That being said, please excuse me as I grab my phone for Siri and Google to find the nearest Irish Pub.