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Mapping Your Way To Faster Shopping

"Google's Indoor Maps" have opened a whole new opportunity to retailers whereby they can enable their in-store customers to get quick and easy access to the products that they're looking for. In brief, "Google's Indoor Maps" can allow in-store customers to find their way within this indoor location, similar to how they would have used a GPS to navigate while driving on road.

What if we integrate these Google Indoor Maps with a Retailer's consumer mobile application (app) and tag the retail store's indoor aisles by "Product Categories" for a large format store? What if we take this tagging to a more granular level, going down to category of products available, and then again by brands? This seems to be just the beginning of a thought process whereby retailers can allow their patrons to directly reach out for the product that they are looking for; rather than wandering through store departments or searching for a store associate. This would save the average shopper some time and a lot of frustration giving her more time to probably shop better, and who may be shop more!

One of the best supporting features on Google floor maps is the ability to guide the user by individual floor's plans, whereby a large multi-level retail stores can also be covered easily and therefore we feel that some of the immediate exploits can be in the large scale Store or say Super Centre.

Let us try to understand how one such Retailer's app may make the life much simpler and the shopping experience much better for the customer. Assume a scenario where our loyal Customer "Louise" is entering such a Large Super Centre for her weekly purchases. Her shopping list typically runs across several store departments like fresh produce, dry grocery, apparel, cleaning-supplies, bath-ware, electronics and sports-goods. Soon after she has parked at the store, Louise logs-in to the Retailer's native Mobile app on her smart phone. The Retailer's app, upon invocation, detects her geographical location and the store that she is visiting today via Location Based Services (LBS) wherein this specific store's latest tagged maps can be pulled and displayed on Louise's phone's screen.

To make the whole shopping trip faster, Louise has keyed in the shopping-list beforehand into the app and a route map is prepared for her upon her check-in into the store via this app. This route map is based on the latest positioning of shelves/racks in the store.  Such a guided walk cuts down the Louise's walk through the aisles a short, easy and a comfortable one.  

Louise was looking for a shirt for her son, but the size 'small' is not present on the shelf today... is the store carrying it currently? No problem... the check would be a quick one by Louise quickly getting to know this via her mobile app. Moreover, if it is not available in store right now, the app prompts her with an easy and quick site to store order which she can pick up during her next shopping trip.

Another use for this app+Google's Indoor maps eco-system can be to integrate with the floor maps and publish current vacancies/next available time slots/expected wait times in Large Store's sub stores like ophthalmologist shops, saloons etc.

This Large Super Centre's in-house sub-stores can publish a status of a vacant customer spots/seat available or unavailability of the same on the app's floor map. A quick view of the available slots will give Louise an idea whether she needs to do the shopping first or opt for a quick visit to the hair salon first. 

While these are just some of the initial thoughts, when pursued actively this specific technology can be utilized in umpteen ways to boost the store sales and above all to guarantee customer satisfaction.  Some more thoughts can be to allow customer's purchase/return history and loyalty points to be utilized to highlight offers/deals when customer is approaching a specific aisle or when she has been looking for a specific product for some time. Allowing customers to "check in" into stores and also "check-in" their shopping lists for a quick availability check or even ready-to-go counter delivery is another possibility already being explored by many retailers. Sky would be the limit when one starts documenting the concept of such a solution/product ... better, if done from a customer's point of view.


Great article Ashu. Retailers are already working hard to have meaningful and context based dialog with customers.
Mobile and social technology will help companies to offer right product and services in real time.

A good article to read, but this concept could create as many problems as it eliminates. Maybe not problems per se, but it would certainly take a certain degree of commitment from employees to uphold the tracking of items/services.

It sounds a bit like one of those automated car parks you often find at large shopping centres. The pay-to-enter barrier is connected to an LED display showing how many spaces are currently available. This is only made easy through the simplicity of the system; When the barriers activate, a car is either entering or leaving.

It would be significantly more difficult in a supermarket environment. They would have to monitor the numbers so closely - for how many are on the shelf at the start of the day, how many are sold and how many (exactly) are taken from the warehouse and put onto the shelf. Slight deviations in this data daily would one day result in an outage of stock in an item - but customers are still being guided to the shelf, the system convinced there is stock!

A good idea, but I would be interested to hear how it would be a practical possibility in the near future. It seems very compatible with Patrick Dixons description of RFID tagging, and I feel that should those two ideas be used in conjuction with each other then the concept would be revolutionary.

Hi Cameron:

Glad to hear that you liked the blog entry! Happier even more, to read your comment about the replenishment on shelves.

In the most technically updated stores, now-a-days, replenishment on shelves is again being triggered by systems seamlessly integrated with the PoS.

However, in the most basic in-store execution which as you aptly pointed out involves the "commitment" oriented in-store execution. And therefore we laid out a solution where "Louise", our regular customer, would be to ping the store system and find a simple yes/no answer to question of availability of her desired items, which she could not find on the shelf, today; all this while she is still in the store premises. Even if she does not find it on the shelf or in the backroom, how about a rain-check deposited to her "in-store" app account?

Please do keep the comments and your most experienced pointers coming... this is what keeps us going :)

Thank you for the quick reply and good answer!

I agree that the ping system would work very well, but in terms of implementation of this idea, do you think it could have potential to be beneficial to smaller stores, for example a corner-shop or clothes store? Or do you think the market for this sort of idea is limited only to large stores such as supermarkets? Could smaller shops allow people to check their stock from home? (As there wouldn't be much point in using your phone while in a store so small)

I look forward to hearing your views.

Hi Cameron:
Hope you had relaxing holidays! Apologies for the delayed response but here you go.
The idea of the above discussed solution is essentially stemming from the customer's basic need of finding her way around quickly and efficiently in a large format retail store. Given that this would not be a need when the same customer visits a small format retail store, am not sure if one would be implementing an economically wise system for the smaller format retailers who typically choose the systems they implement very selectively/wisely and would keep their systems to need based bare minimum, while they try to invest more in their product portfolio.
Now let us consider the part of your question regarding small format retailers publishing their stock / product portfolio availability online on a mobile app for giving a window of stock availability to the customers on their mobiles. Based on our experience with smaller format retailers; they would want to test every investment that they make on the scale of its ROI potential. A single-store specific app may not pass that litmus test because the ROI potential for a single smaller format store may not sound appealing. However if we are talking about a whole chain of smaller format stores spread across towns then it may sound like a wise decision for the retailer and the retailer may want to go for it. Infact, we are aware of some similar initiatives in the time period of 2005-2010 wherein some retailers having very dense footprint in Class “A” cities used an SMS/Text Message based customer helpline for checks on inventory and availability at specific stores
To summarize, for small format stores the retailer would typically take a step forward on such an initiative only if it sounds like a wise ROI decision. While for a large format retail Super-center it definitely does sound like one.
Hope we were able to answer your queries … please do keep writing in!

Thank you for a quick and informative answer!!

My only worry with this concept is the effect it
could potentially have on the smaller stores. I
live in a small town, where there are four
supermarkets and a high-street full of small,
independant shops. Should this concept be
implemented by the four supermarkets in the area,
people would know which supermarket to go to for
the goods they want and know when they are in
stock etc... My worry is that those little shops
could be forced into bankruptcy by what can be
described as nothing more than the strengthening
of an already dominant force.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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