New innovation a beacon of hope for shoppersOctober 18, 2017
Thanks to an innovative technology from a company called Takemetuit, the consumer experience is about to get a lot less painful.
Consumers today are more time-starved than ever, and they demand better in-store service and experiences. Online purchases are on the rise year over year, but with thousands of new products hitting store shelves each year, it doesn't appear brick-and-mortar retail stores are going anywhere.
Big box stores carry more than 150,000 products throughout the year. That's more than double the product catalogue carried by large retailers even a decade ago. Around half of those products are in-store at any given time, depending on seasonal rotations, sell-through and other retail cycles. Product locations change every week and month as retailers move those 150,000 products in and out of the store.
With a majority of retail staff working part-time and a high turn-over rate, many employees simply can't keep up with the constant changes in inventory. Retailers estimate at least 10 per cent of products are in the wrong place at the wrong time. All in all, customers and staff waste time searching. The in-store customer shopping experience can be a frustrating one.
Locating products using acoustic technology
Takemetuit Inc. started in 2014 with a mission to improve the retail customer experience through Indoor Positioning System (IPS) technology. The technology integrates with a retailer's existing retail web and mobile infrastructure, and it pinpoints the exact location of any product, on demand, for the shopper.
Once available in stores, Takemetuit will allow customers to look up a product online using a smartphone, click the "Takemetuit" button, and follow a real-time map route straight to the product's location within 10cm.
Similar to the way GPS functions outdoors, Takemetuit creates a xy-coordinate in two dimensions and correlates that coordinate to a store map location - in this case, a shelf location. Then Takemetuit goes one step further than GPS and adds the third dimension, which is shelf height.
Using small speakers, or beacons, placed around the inside of the store, it triangulates the user's position by performing complex calculations based on the travel of intelligent inaudible sound waves between beacons and the user's smartphone. Other waveform technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been unable to duplicate this type of accuracy and technology.
Takemetuit proved the concept successfully, but they ran into challenges when they discovered regular speakers are not optimal for the application.
Watch: Takemetuit - How it Works
Perfecting the product with SAIT
Soundwaves become inaudible for humans at a frequency of 20,000 Hz. At such high frequencies, the sound is extremely directional in nature, and the output - or radiation pattern - of regular speakers isn't broad enough to cover large spaces. In the case of Takemetuit's IPS technology, this phenomenon reduced the product's coverage, creating dead-zones in the shopping area.
In partnership with Takemetuit, researchers at SAIT's Centre for Innovative Information Technology Solutions (CIITS) investigated whether a speaker designed for multi-mode operation could emit a more favourable radiation pattern. The team also examined the reception characteristics of a standard smartphone speaker, with the intent to tailor the beacon signal for optimum performance.
As a result of the project, the research team developed a mathematical model for the ideal IPS speaker; designed a prototype speaker with signal output optimized for high-frequency applications, and; optimized the performance of a smartphone with specialized pre-distortion of the beacon signal.
The work allowed Takemetuit to better understand the characteristics of sound in relation to different types of speakers. They also used the data to strengthen their patents. SAIT and Takemetuit intend to undertake future research projects together, the next investigating advanced programming techniques to optimize the mathematical calculation capacity of a smartphone.
Welcome to smart shopping
When fully launched, Takemetuit estimates their IPS technology can reduce the in-store time for shoppers by 50 to 70 per cent, even in novel environments. The vision is for consumers to be able to locate individual products on-demand and create complete shopping lists simply by using the retailer's website "add to cart" function. Takemetuit's technology maps the quickest route through the store to collect all the items on your list.
The technology also has broad implications for retail optimization. Employees could use the tool to find products, assist customers, and speed up the process of restocking and repricing. Beyond that, Takemetuit's technology captures sales lifecycle data, allowing retailers to completely change the way they sell. By gaining insight on customer journeys, retailers can be much more strategic about the products they place in front of them. From sale alerts to product reminders to coupons, retailers can immediately convert consumer interest into product purchase.
Takemetuit's IPS technology is more precise than traditional proximity sensing, which relies on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals that are only accurate to within five or ten metres of the product's location. Proximity sensing can get you to the aisle, but you'll still spend several minutes searching for the item. Even then, proximity sensing does not incorporate real-time xyz-product-location updates, so the product might not be there. With Takemetuit, the margin of error in product location is negligible - to within inches of exact shelf location.