One of the things I hate most about going shopping is walking around a store trying to find something I know – or at least I’m pretty sure – is there.
It’s bad enough in a supermarket, but it’s even worse when I’m trying to find my way around a large department store with many floors. Are hiking boots going to be in the sports department, or are they in men’s footwear, or is there a separate department for outdoor life? Does this store even carry the sort of boots I’m looking for?
This is a big deal for retailers. If customers can’t find what they’re looking for, they usually won’t ask for help – they'll just leave.
What’s wrong with traditional maps and signs?
Traditional store maps and signage don’t always help. They help customers find the right general area, but that’s not necessarily enough detail. As I said above, it’s not always clear what department I should be looking in. It all depends how the store has decided to classify their stock.
Even when I’m in the right place, I still find myself wandering around the aisles and shelves looking for the right products. Maybe they're out of stock, maybe I just can’t see them, or maybe they’re actually somewhere else. It’s frustrating and tedious, and after a while, I’ll probably just pull out my phone and buy something online, most likely from a competitor.
Digital wayfinders can provide the solution, especially if they’re interactive. They can offer a much smaller level of granularity, all the way down to individual products. If I search for my hiking boots, the wayfinder can show me exactly where they're located, and give me detailed directions of how to get there. And, if the wayfinder is tied into the inventory database, it can even tell me what’s in stock and potentially save me a wasted trip.
It’s the equivalent of Apple Maps or Google Maps, but for stores. If I want to find a restaurant, I don’t have to look at a map of everything in the city. Instead, I can search for the specific place I’m looking for – or even types of restaurants that meet my needs in terms of cuisine, price, and distance. And I don’t just get their address – I get a personalized map with turn-by-turn directions to the exact place I’m looking for, animated and updated in real time. They also give me additional information on whether they’re currently open, how busy they are, reviews, menus, and more.
If Apple and Google can provide this level of detail for the entire Western world, surely, it’s not too much to ask retailers to do the same for their stores.
Or is it?
Why don’t we see more digital wayfinders?
In-store digital wayfinding isn’t new technology. We actually built our first Grid-based wayfinder for Target’s flagship store in Melbourne’s Central Business District back in early 2019. It was activated by both touch and voice, and customers loved it. To this day, it’s one of our most requested solutions.
The problem is that although it worked well, it’s neither maintainable nor scalable. Building the initial map and inputting all the detailed product location data was a lot of work. Every time they wanted to move things around, the map data had to be updated and the map needed to be rebuilt. And that was for just one store – trying to do it for hundreds or thousands of stores would be a huge task. As a result, we never took this beyond an initial proof of concept.
Automated digital mapping with AI
At last month’s StoreAI launch, we demonstrated an AI-powered store mapping solution from Pointr. This takes away much of the manual work involved in creating and maintaining maps. It uses AI and computer vision to analyze CAD files and then automatically creates digital maps that can be used in a variety of situations, including kiosks, mobile devices and browsers.
Integrating this type of automation with Grid makes it possible for retailers to offer wayfinding capability for large numbers of stores. It addresses both the scaling and maintenance problems – large retailers already create these digital files as part of store planning and management, so it’s an easy step for them to repurpose them for in-store mapping.
More uses for in-store maps with Grid
But integrating Grid and Pointr doesn’t just address scaling and maintenance problems. It also enables us to offer new customer experiences that use in-store maps. Once we have the Pointr map loaded into Grid, we can use it in many different ways, including mobile apps, web apps, and kiosks.
For example, imagine a touch-screen, kiosk, or interactive digital signage that shows products and promotions. When you find something you’re interested in, just tap on it - or speak to it - and it will show you exactly where the product is located. Then, if you want, you can use a QR code to transfer that map to your phone, and follow it just like any other modern digital map.
(Actually - you don't have to imagine it. Watch the video at the end of this post and you'll see it in action!)
The Grid endless aisle works in exactly the same way, in both its kiosk and mobile versions. Browse for a product or use the StoreAI ChatGPT interface to talk to it, and it can tell you not only what’s in stock, but where to find it.
It can also make life easier for staff when they’re asked where to find a product. Currently store associates have to give directions or escort a customer to the right location. This can be a problem if they’re busy with something else or they’re supposed to stay in a specific department. If the customer’s looking for something in a different department, they may not actually know where the item is. But with a map on their mobile, they can immediately find any product and show the customer exactly where they need to go. And, the same as with the kiosk version, the customer has the option of downloading the map to their own phone. That’s quicker and easier for everyone.
As we learned from our pilot with Target four years ago, in-store mapping leads to happier customers, reduced workload for staff and, of course, increased revenue. The Pointr integration finally makes it possible for Grid to deliver this to retailers.