Local Search in 2019

What’s in store (pun intended) for 2019? The Local Search Association kicks off each year with a compilation of its members’ predictions.

This is our third consecutive year submitting predictions. While our 2017 prediction proved way too optimistic, our 2018 prediction, and the two we submitted this year, resonate well among those of our peers.

Google My Business

GMB, as insiders call it, is easily the central theme of this year’s predictions. As Google describes it, your Business Profile appears right when people are searching for your business or businesses like yours on Google Search and Maps. Said differently, GMB democratises the digitisation of the physical storefront. Because Google observes web standards such as Schema.org, GMB is in line with A structured, data-driven future predicted by MONO‘s Louise Lachmann (p. 47) and Svenn Anderson (p. 56). We couldn’t be more pleased about this development as it finally addresses (pun again intended), at scale, the question we posed in our 2018 prediction:

Might brick-and-mortar benefit by borrowing now familiar concepts from their online counterparts?

In fact, Marc Poirier of Acquisio, a business local to us in the Montréal area, specifies exactly how Google breaks down [the] barrier to entry for local advertisers (p. 34) to make our previous prediction a reality.

Alternatives to the mobile-social status quo

One of our two predictions this year was The emergence of refreshing alternatives to the mobile-social status quo, the paradigm which has largely characterised the current decade. Perhaps the best indication that change is afoot is the dearth of predictions about social networks! The Social & Reviews section is a mere four pages long, with one prediction being our own, and another, by Surefire Local‘s Shashi Bellamkonda, being that Google will finally get social right (p. 26).

Indeed if there’s one prediction that has us excited it is the growth of No click search results predicted by Infront Webworks‘ Michael Hodgson (p. 15). Thanks to the aforementioned structured data in the form of Schema.org, anyone — not just Google — can present information in a novel way to users through the web browser. In fact, one of our current top initiatives at reelyActive is in-page search of physical objects within physical spaces, leveraging these same standards.

Privacy, data ownership and consumer inclusion

The other of our two predictions is that Consumer inclusion will become the norm rather than the exception. As many experts cite in their predictions, the subject of ownership of personal data has come to the forefront, as was clearly the case at the LSA’s Place Conference a few months previous. Jeff White of Gravy Analytics predicts that The data privacy storm is coming (p. 66) while Skyhook‘s Kipp Jones suggests that “the rumors of the death of privacy have been greatly exaggerated” (p. 54). While there’s consensus among the experts that change is coming, the nature and impact of that change is, however, very much up for debate.

Of course concerns over data ownership apply equally to SMBs and brands themselves, as Location3‘s Josh Allen highlights in his prediction of Data ownership & brand control (p. 68), concluding:

Own your website. Own your accounts. Own your data.

This mantra is as befitting to the individual user as to the brands and businesses with which they interact. We’d therefore be pleased to see the conversations about data ownership around the board room table translate into more meaningful conversations around the kitchen table.

Summing it all up

In conclusion, we’re partial to Gyi TsakalakisPlus ça change, plus c’est la même chose prediction (p. 19), not just because it is titled in French, but because it reminds us all that technology is only complementary to what has made, and continues to make, the local space great:

While 2019 is sure to bring improvements in the way that machines understand the real world, success in the local space will continue to be built on remarkable service, reputation, and relationships.

Here’s to a successful 2019 for local search, to a broadly-accessible standards-based web, and to serious industry and individual introspection about privacy!

Facebook, it’s time to “share” your view of the customer

At the 2017 Place Conference, on the Rx for Retail panel, Trace Johnson of Total Wine & More eloquently summarised his problem, one faced by so many modern retailers today:

“we need a unified view of our customer”

And while the panel concluded that there is no single vendor that can offer that solution, conference organiser Greg Sterling interjected:

“Facebook is the closest”

Indeed, Facebook, who also presented at the conference, have an unprecedented understanding of their 2 billion monthly active users, and already offer to their business customers arguably the best targeted advertising capability of any platform. And if the audience (or even Facebook themselves!) had any doubt about their presence in brick-and-mortar retail, these fresh stats hammered home the point:

Facebook in Stores

So what’s preventing Facebook from offering retailers a unified view of the customers that walk through their door — as they walk through the door? Not much we’d argue! In addition to having an established relationship with most retailers, they have both the digital view of the customer online and the physical presence of their mobile app in-store. From a technological perspective it’s entirely feasiBLE to connect the two!

Facebook User Identification

The above diagram illustrates how we see Facebook closing the loop. The missing link is essentially the Facebook app “advertising” a real-world cookie using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and the infrastructure to relay back to Facebook the precise real-time location of this cookie, whenever it is detected. With this in place, Facebook could push the retailer not only a unified view of their customer, but one contextually enriched with the on-line and in-store journey. As a result:

Facebook owns the user.   The retailer owns the in-store experience.

It’s important to note that Facebook did try to roll out a beacon infrastructure in 2015 which, unsurprisingly, didn’t work out (another presenter at the conference, TouchTunes, lamented the impossible logistics of maintaining their fleet of tens of thousands of battery-powered beacons). The differences in the scenario we present are the following:

  • Internet-connected mains-powered BLE infrastructure solves this logistics nightmare
  • Facebook doesn’t need to own/manage this infrastructure

At reelyActive, we’ve been selling such infrastructure to small and large businesses for years, and we’re not alone. But the game-changer will be when BLE capabilities are added to smart lighting infrastructure — which is actually happening even faster than we expected!  In short:

infrastructure can no longer be considered a blocker

Facebook can enable — with clear user opt-in, of course — their mobile app to advertise a user identifier in the form of a 128-bit UUID (which is supported by both iOS and Android).

Facebook 128-bit UUID

Any infrastructure in range would detect these BLE packets, and software such as our Pareto SaaS could establish their provenance from the Facebook app from the Public ID. The software can then forward the UUID to Facebook’s API along with the precise location of the receiving infrastructure. Using the Private ID, only Facebook can then look up their user and push any relevant info to the retailer’s back-end, for them to deliver the final in-store experience.

That in-store experience is what brick-and-mortar retail is all about, and we were (again) reminded that 9 out of 10 purchases are still made in-store. But without a unified customer view, how can we expect our local retailers to optimise the experiences accompanying 90% of the purchases we make? Especially when, as Verve’s Walt Geer highlighted, an increasing number of consumers themselves already expect this and won’t hesitate to opt-in for the promise of personalised experiences!

Opt-in for personalisation

Four years ago, when our vision of the future helped us win World’s Best Startup, we wrote Facebook, you might “like” this. Today as that vision is becoming a reality, we might instead say Facebook, it’s time to “share” your view of the customer.   How could that not be good for business?

BYOD RTLS

While the terms bring your own device (BYOD), coined when employees started bringing their own phones and laptops to the office, and real-time location systems (RTLS), coined when RFID tags started to be tracked, may be unfamiliar to many, together, these concepts promise to have an impact that will soon become familiar to us all in our daily lives.

Chances are, you already BYOD when you’re out-of-home (OOH), simply by carrying your iPhone, Fitbit or Tile in public. And, perhaps surprisingly, that very phenomenon is the catalyst for a global sensor infrastructure that is enabling computers to understand the real-world in real-time. Yes, those devices you’re “bringing” can be located in real-time — and in this post we’ll do our best to convince you to be optimistic about the impact!

Today, BYOD RTLS is enabling anonymous audience measurement to improve customer experiences. And, the mass production of consumer devices has made radio chips so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to catalyse classic RTLS applications in industry, a cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution. Before long everything will be radio-identifiable, extending the Uber and AirBnB phenomena to everyday commodities in the pervasive sharing economy. Here’s how and why.

Audience Measurement

When are people passing by?   What proportion pass through the door?   What are the most common journeys inside my venue?   Where do people spend the most time?   How much time?

These are the questions that a BYOD RTLS can answer, and our Pareto platform today provides those answers to retailers and OOH operators. By listening for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals, it is possible to respect the preferences of the end user who can:

  • turn off Bluetooth and avoid detection
  • be anonymously identified when Bluetooth is enabled
  • be uniquely identified with an explicit opt-in (see our previous post)

What does anonymously mean? At best we can segment by device type, as you can see in the image below and live on our website.

Advertising devices as detected by Pareto today

Brick-and-mortar retail knows it needs to compete on customer experience, and by answering the above questions — in a way that respects their customers’ individual preferences — the benefits extend right back to those very customers.

Classic RTLS without Vendor Lock-In

Where are my assets?   Where do they spend the most time?   How is work-in-progress moving through my space?   Where and when are there bottlenecks?

These are the questions that RTLS has been answering for two decades, albeit with sparse adoption in industry. The BYOD phenomenon is set to change that. Today a systems integrator — or even the industrial/commercial client themselves — can put in place a RTLS using:

  • BLE readers from a variety of vendors (ex: our reelceivers)
  • inexpensive Bluetooth beacons from countless vendors
  • middleware from a variety of vendors (ex: our open-source or Pareto)

When we founded reelyActive in 2012, we had to develop our own proprietary readers and tags. But merely a year later we were among the first to embrace BYOD RTLS when BLE seemed poised to revolutionise the industry by providing a global radio standard. The ability for any company to answer the above questions is far more valuable than pushing a proprietary platform, and all parties, especially the end-customers, benefit from the resulting massive gain in efficiencies.

The fourth industrial revolution is all about efficiency, and industries know they need RTLS to remain competitive. Fortunately it turns out that tracking in-store customer journeys and work-in-progress on a shop floor amount to essentially the same thing — how about that for efficiency!

The Pervasive Sharing Economy

Where is the nearest available bicycle?   What tools are available nearby?   Who can come and help me right now?   Clothing-as-a-Service???

These are the questions that soon we’ll not think twice about asking, expecting not only to receive an answer, but in fact the optimal answer. Already billions of products with an embedded BLE radio are shipping annually, and at least an order of magnitude more are shipping with a standardised UHF passive RFID tag (see RAIN RFID). Before long it will be commonplace for everyday products to be radio-identifiable in everyday situations, driving The Pervasive Sharing Economy where the “Uber for power tools”, the “AirBnB for storage”, and yes, even Clothing-as-a-Service, can finally thrive.

Indeed, everything becoming a shareable resource is the embodiment of our vision of ubiquitous machine-contextual-awareness at the service of humanity and is the reason we at reelyActive created open projects such as advlib and Sniffypedia to hasten this revolution. But already today, in the form of anonymous audience measurement and classic industrial applications, BYOD RTLS is making a significant impact which, we hope you’ll agree, has pertinent applications today and enormous positive potential over the long term.