Retail Loco Preview: As Location Tech Moves Beyond Mobile, What’s Next?

In a conversation with The LBMA's Asif Khan ahead of the Retail Loco conference in Chicago, expect the mainstreaming of smart devices to tear down walls between channels and devices.

On October 19 and 20, the Location Based Marketing Association will head to Chicago to host its Retail Loco conference, a two day event that will deliver insights and trends on the latest in mobile and location-based tools and techniques for retailers. The event will feature keynote speakers, panels on the Internet of Things, the sharing economy, proximity-based payments, location-based advertising metrics and effectiveness, foot-traffic strategies, and more from brands such as The Chicago Bulls, McDonald’s, L’Oréal, United Airlines, Marsh Supermarkets, Redbox, Waze, and more.

We discussed some of this year’s hot topics with Asif R. Khan, the LBMA’s founder & president, and the ideas that will be addressed at the event.

GeoMarketing: At last year’s Retail Loco Chicago event, one of the major themes you talked about was about “getting marketers to see location as a dataset that spans all media types, not just mobile.” Are we seeing that trend deepening?

Asif Khan: The trend is definitely deepening. We’re seeing this idea where we talk about location as a piece of data, a another form of the online cookie that transitions across online, offline, digital out-of-home, radio, television. Location data is uniting all those fronts together.

This year into 2017 — and we’re going to hear a lot about that at RetailLoco next week — we’re going to be seeing the use of online/offline physical retargeting off of beacons and other indoor sensors become more common. The ability to use presence detection coming from a beacon in the physical world to then effect online ad retargeting is a huge development.

We’ve seen the announcements that Google has made around uniting their advertising components in that area. Facebook’s trying to push hard on that front as well. Carriers like Verizon and all these related companies are trying to play with this idea of the location-based cookie. That clearly says it’s not just about mobile, it’s how we tie the mobile to the desktop to the car to the different media inputs, if you will.

One of the panels looks at the sharing economy in the context of retail. What are the trends there? How do you see retailers interacting with services like Uber? The integration of Uber’s API into the apps of brands like Starwood Hotels comes to mind.

That’s certainly a big part of the sharing economy as it pertains to location. With this particular panel, we’re trying to focus the discussion actually on retailing product. One of the speakers on that panel is from a company called the Frock Shop.

In New York City, you might have seen a bunch of these types of companies. But they’re popping up in all kinds of different cities now. Let’s say you’ve got a big event coming up this weekend, some fancy dinner to go to. Instead of you going out and buying that Armani suit and dropping the cash on that, maybe there’s somebody in your neighborhood who’s got one in their closet, and you can rent it for the weekend, that kind of thing.

If we wind the clock back a few years in location, we had companies like Zaarly and TaskRabbit. We haven’t heard a lot about those kinds of companies lately. Not that the idea of that kind of sharing has disappeared. I just think it’s reemerging. And in particular, it’s reemerging in areas like high-end fashion. Even some of the high-end fashion brands are now, themselves, starting to rent their clothes as opposed to selling.

Uber certainly straddles the line between ride-sharing with UberPool and on-demand ride-hailing through its other features. Aside from that, is there a substantive difference between on-demand and the sharing economy?

Yes, I do see an important difference there. At a top level, but I think the two actually work well together. There is a role for the on-demand concept to fit into the sharing economy, as well.

I can say, “I want to rent that item,” and then have Uber bring it to me. There’s a lot of that going on, but I don’t think it’s just about the movement of the goods, necessarily, as much as it is about the monetization of under-used resources, under-used goods and under-employed people. And it’s clear that location technology has a big role to play in that.

Attribution and measuring location-based ad effectiveness is a big topic. There’s some talk about the “commodification” of location services that offer attribution — marketers don’t see a lot of differentiation. Is that a misperception? How can the industry address that issue?

I think the goal is the same for a lot of these guys. And while there’s not a lot of differentiation, I think the challenge in the industry is still twofold.

On the one hand, you still have a lot of bad location data, so getting accuracy of the data is still a problem.

Two, from an attribution perspective, there’s no real settled, agreed-to standards yet as to what the metrics are. You’ve got a lot of guys trying to push their own systems, whether that’s PlaceIQ, or Placed, with their panel system, or whoever, has different ways to look at this.

The other piece of it is that, historically, in this industry, you’ve had a lot of entities that have been focused on mobile location ad attribution. They’ve been trying to come up with metrics around that. A lot of these guys have looked at that from a GPS/geofence-based ad delivery perspective, and then trying to measure the effect of that. Some of them are teaming up or even acquiring beacon companies to try and get that “last mile,” if you will. Again, there’s no proper way to do that, necessarily.

My personal view is I don’t see beacons as the final answer. In fact, I look at beacons and say that there’s probably a 24-to-36 month shelf life of that cycle. And then we’re on to other things.

You’ll see it at the conference.

For example, Philips will be there talking about their light solutions. For me, one of the biggest trends in the industry is the taking of the idea of a beacon and what it can do in terms of its micro-location transactional capability and moving that into the infrastructure, the fabric of the store or the building. It will be just sitting in the lights, or sitting in the flooring, or sitting in the mannequins, or sitting in the shelving. It may not even just be a beacon. It may be a sensor of some kind. Who knows what form that will take yet?

Google has been actively building up the concept of the Physical Web, where the browser takes the place of apps in anticipating users’ needs and connecting them with the resources they want, such as a restaurant reservation or a ride-hail. How important is that and what does the future of apps look like?

I believe that when we think about apps, the way we consume and promote apps today, will not remain the way it happens in the future. I believe that there’s a future where apps will still exist, but the apps will be temporal, and that the delivery of the app, the promotion of the app, will be based on the physical presence type of idea.

If you think about, for example, let’s say an art gallery or a museum. There’s a great use case for an app that can enhance your experience while you’re wandering around, looking at all the different exhibits. Beacons and location technology can help make that come to life in powerful ways; however, that is not an app that I need to have downloaded and sitting on my phone 24/7, 365 days a year. I only need it once or twice a year when I’m there.

Picture a future where you approach the building. The building detects you, so to speak, the building is “smart” and IoT enabled. And it pushes you some sort of message over mobile web or some other experience that says, “Hey, there’s an app that can enhance your experience while you’re here. Would you like it, yes or no?”

You say, “Yes,” it then pushes down to your device. You install it, you use it, and then, as you leave the building, it thanks you for doing that. Maybe it asks you a survey question or something, and then it asks, “Would you like us to remove that from your device?”

Once the IoT world really takes hold, and everything becomes smart and interconnected, we’ll see the building talk to the phone. And the phone can talk to the car. And the car can talk to the building and that “conversation” can connect to the billboards and everything else around the user and their devices.

In the area of mobile payments, what has driven adoption by retailers? What continues to hinder adoption? How much impact is Apple having with Apple Pay?

There are still a lot of hurdles when it comes to wider adoption of mobile pay. However, I will say that a lot of the retailers that we’ve been talking to lately who have endorsed Apple Pay, who supported it in their stores, many of them are now also supporting it online.

We’re starting to see that transition where Apple Pay is positioning itself as a physical, proximity-based payment platform, and it’s going after PayPal’s bread and butter, in the online e-commerce transaction space. That makes a lot of sense to me.

There’s a huge market there, and I think it’s right for Apple to walk in a disrupt and steal share in that market. We see a bunch of retailers get on board with that idea.

You will also see similar disruption from existing platforms that their customers are on.

For example, OpenTable and other reservation/concierge platforms will be able to say, in an Apple Pay-like way, “Store your credit card in OpenTable and use it to pay for everything. You can pay for any restaurant you go to through out payment system.”

You’re going to see a lot of that type of stuff where really, it’s about leveraging existing large numbers of users who represent the install base on a platform that’s already there.



About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.