As more consumers prowl store aisles equipped with smartphones, retailers have multiple reasons to want to harness the capabilities of these user endpoints for their own benefit. Nearbuy Systems is bringing an interesting tool set to merchants that should also benefit tech-savvy shoppers with its new Captive Portal and analytics utilities.
Nearbuy Sytems is a relative newcomer to the technology world, and is interested in the sweet spot where retail can benefit from the proliferation of smartphones across the private consumer space. I've talked with Nearbuy CEO and co-founder Bryan Wargo in the past about his company's location-based mobile shopping apps (including ridiculously accurate in-store device tracking that presents various sale offers based on where a shopper is standing on the sales floor), but Nearbuy's new Captive Portal offers functionality to both large retail environments and those too small to be interested in location services.
The premise behind Nearbuy's new in-store guest wireless offering is simple. I log into the store wireless network through a simple captive portal, and as I use my smartphone while shopping, my activities are being logged. Add that data to my activities on different days or in a merchant's other branches, and trends can be gleaned. Combine my usage information with that of other shoppers in an easy-to use analytics UI, and large data sets will hopefully yield valuable information about what consumers are actually buying or not, and what websites are being used for comparison shopping from the store's own network.
Citing predictions from Forrester Research and Deloitte, Wargo believed that about 25% of all North American big-box retailers were offering free Wi-Fi access to consumers by the end of 2011. Wargo also noted that through 2014, 90% of all retail transactions are still expected to occur in-store, but with more than half of these being influenced by what multichannel consumers see on the web about their intended purchases. Considering that smartphone sales continue to skyrocket and that pending family data plans may get even more consumers into the Nearbuy target demographic, things get interesting in this unique space.
After explaining the why, Wargo took me through the how of Nearbuy's analytics framework. One of Nearbuy's major selling points is that it leverages a store's existing WLAN, whether it be a one-access-point Starbuck's or a big building supply house with many APs. Nearbuy provides an add-on captive portal appliance (or a software enhancement to existing Motorola NX appliances) in each store. The Captive Portal is shoppers' front door to free wireless in the store. They can typically log in with an email address or social media credentials, and once terms of usage are accepted, the Nearbuy-enabled consumer connectivity experience is off and running.
While Wargo says that no sensitive consumer data or credit card information is passed through or stored on Nearbuy servers, target offers and other enticements specifically aimed at store wireless users can be leveraged to get shoppers to opt in. Each store pipes a range of analytically significant data off to Nearbuy's data center for aggregation, including types of devices used, activity history, Web traffic volume, top products browsed and purchased both in store and online, dollar values of items purchased, and more.
Nearbuy Systems certainly taps an interesting opportunity with an impressive utility suite, but there are a couple of points that Wargo yielded as we discussed the merits of his new baby. Some smartphone users simply leave the Wi-Fi side of their devices off most of the time in favor of their data plans. And then there are hit-and-run consumers who simply don't want to fish their phones out of their pockets while they shop, as it can lead to more time in a store than they might really want to spend. (I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle of both of these.). Then there are the feature-phone-only folks who simply can't get online from their device. Nearbuy has nothing to offer any of these groups. Regardless of those who can't, or by choice, won't use Nearbuy-enabled wireless, Wargo knows that the retail space is certainly evolving.
Will enough merchants and consumers buy in to make Nearbuy viable? Time will tell. Meanwhile, you can get a demo of the Nearbuy System's Captive Portal and a peek at the company's analytics capabilities at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG05jJIatWA
Disclaimer: Lee has no business relationship with Nearbuy SystemsLee is a Wireless Network Architect for a large private university. He has also tought classes on networking, wireless network administration, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronic Warfare systems technician ... View Full Bio