Nearbuy Leverages Micro-Location For Retail And Warehouse

For many Wi-Fi systems, location displays and tools amount to little more than functional eye-candy. Even the best WLANs are subject to the laws of physics and radio frequency propagation, and can often speculate only ballpark locations without RFID and GPS augmentation. Startup Nearbuy Systems looks to change all that with its new Micro-Location solution, and the company has retail spaces and inventory storage facilities in mind as it spins up. But will retailers and shoppers bite?

January 7, 2011

3 Min Read
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For many Wi-Fi systems, location displays and tools amount to little more than functional eye-candy. Even the best WLANs are subject to the laws of physics and radio frequency propagation, and can often speculate only ballpark locations without RFID and GPS augmentation. Startup Nearbuy Systems looks to change all that with its new Micro-Location solution, and the company has retail spaces and inventory storage facilities in mind as it spins up. But will retailers and shoppers bite?

When it comes to location services, the importance placed on accuracy varies with the specific application. At one extreme, GPS services are impressively accurate, but only in outdoor environments.

More common and better for indoors, WLAN management consoles attempt to use access point and client signals to place client devices on a floor plan. It's very common to see a margin of error measured in the dozens of feet in any direction, including vertically, without adding the cost of RFID or changing "typical" WLAN design to a costlier model aimed specifically at location accuracy. Nearbuy CEO Bryan Wargo understands the challenges of WLAN-style location, as he was high up on the technical totem pole for the AirWave multivendor wireless management platform for many years.

Wargo explained to me what Nearbuy is trying to do, and to the best of my knowledge the company is alone in this space so far. The back-end magic marries a given store's wireless network and video security system, as well as customers' smart phones, in a framework that could pay off for both shoppers and merchants alike.

For the customer, in-store maps and "go to" functionality mean never wondering where a given product is located. Need human help? Nearbuy's Micro-Location gets an employee to you, wherever you are. Location-aware promotions can keep dollars in patrons' wallets and ensure repeat business for those customers willing to use their smart phones interactively as they cruise the aisles.For the merchant, the payoffs are many. If the shopping experience is deemed to be improved by Nearbuy, the expectation is that profits will improve. Metrics on where shoppers are going in each store and what they are browsing or purchasing are significantly enhanced when they are based in the wireless framework.

Wargo explained that where stores have video security and wireless already, Nearbuy is an easy add to get location accuracy to within just a few feet. Reliable indoor location accuracy combined with the endless procession of new apps on the smart phones in consumers' pockets means that unique shopping opportunities are being realized on both sides of the purchasing equation.

In the warehouse, Nearbuy's enhanced location services promise to improve the efficiency of picking and replenishment, which together are estimated to represent over 50 percent of distribution costs, if you trust Nearbuy's data. By knowing where workers are in relation to inventory to be picked, much of the unknown is taken out of the daily warehouse operations for aggregate gains in performance.

Wargo is enthusiastic about Nearbuy's capabilities and unique approach to enhanced location services. Without a doubt, we'll see other creative attempts at leveraging the ever-growing number of smart phones likely to pervade pretty much every corner of our daily lives. Will consumers buy in to Nearbuy? Will retail stores? Wargo admits the company is just getting off the ground, so this will be an interesting one to follow. 

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