Geofencing – Anyone using it?

Given how many conversations I have, and questions I receive, regarding geofencing, I’m curious how often this is used in practice? Specifically, I’m referring to the oft-discussed scenario of getting ‘pinged’ as you enter (or exit) a restaurant, cinema, shopping mall…etc. A survey is then launched, with location-specific questions to follow.

A few months ago a consultant with a small food company for a client relayed a question from them (their MR team lead): can we ‘ping’ a shopper as they round a corner into a store aisle? I’ve thought often about that question. Not whether it can be done (maybe, with Beacons), but rather how unrealistic this scenario is. We’re talking about someone moving through a store, who’s there to shop, not take a survey. As they walk past an end cap, or down the potato chip aisle, they get some type of phone alert. Assuming someone notices the alert (they won’t) are they going to stop in their tracks and take a 2, 3, or 7 minute survey (they won’t).

Another curve ball: can geofencing tell the difference between the first and second level of a mall? Could it think you’re in the store directly above or below where you’re standing? My hunch is that it can’t tell the difference, as geofencing works on X and Y axes (not Z). Perhaps if you’re accessing in-store wifi it might know the difference, maybe. Nevertheless, are these the questions we should be considering regarding its viability?

More recently, I was discussing a retailer exit interview scenario with several fieldwork suppliers. In fact I secured bids from several, and whilst leaning towards one offer, I decided to test their claim that yes, they can handle geofencing. By coincidence, that very eve I was attending a mobile tech Meetup with a speaker who works with Beacons (the newish Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology…stay tuned for separate post on this). Anyhoo, I shared the location of the event (big restaurant with a banquet room near downtown Mpls) with the potential fieldwork supplier. They in turned geofenced the location, tested it, told me it’s good to go. I attended the event, checked my phone often…crickets. I’ll paraphrase the next day’s debrief into this: ‘turns out we don’t actually have geofencing, I thought we did.’

The silver lining in this scenario is it prompted me to circle back and give several suppliers the 3rd degree on how they define geofencing. The gist of those conversation was: most don’t have real geofencing beyond an alpha dev stage. No harm came my or more importantly my client’s way in the form of a DOA project, however I think this story goes beyond a simple ‘buyer beware’ cautionary tale. The number of mobile fieldwork suppliers with fully functional geofencing, as I write this in early 2014, is amazingly low.

Which isn’t the point. The point to me now is: apparently geofencing isn’t in much of a demand…OR…these types of projects are monopolized by the few suppliers who have invested in the technology. The latter is self-evident, and I’m leaning towards the former as well. How about you?