Best Buy RedLaser Trial Just Shows One Store’s Stock

Best Buy on Monday (Sept. 17) described a trial it's doing with eBay's RedLaser, where it uses in-store Wi-Fi triangulation coupled with near-the-store GPS tracking to confirm that a shopper has walked into a Best Buy. Once confirmed, it pops up a special version of RedLaser's app focused solely on Best Buy. The traditional RedLaser app—which will still be available to those shoppers in a Best Buy—did a more global product search among all retailers.

What's impressive is that this approach is three levels deeper than what RedLaser has been used to. It goes beyond limiting its results to Best Buy, focusing instead on what that specific Best Buy store sells and then limiting the results to what that specific Best Buy store has in stock. This means Best Buy's APIs are sharing real-time inventory data. As Walmart learned recently with its new site search engine, limiting results (such as for just Walmart versus Amazon and its partners or even all of Google) makes for a much more complicated and demanding search. And all are trying to avoid the nightmare that Home Depot experienced with its Google Maps trial, when the app kept sending customers who were inside Home Depot using a Home Depot app to—we couldn't make this up—the local Lowe's.

RedLaser General Manager Rob Veres said this functionality, called In-Store Experience, addresses what had been an unfortunate result of performing global searches. "To date, RedLaser has been used widely in local stores. But often we just tell the customer where else to buy a product," Veres said.

He added that the app will also show local discounts and any service specials (such as installation). Veres touched on a nice twist that Best Buy is doing with its local inventory, too. "We can even show open box inventory available at any particular Best Buy store, where the customer can get a big discount on a product that has been previously opened," he said.

The app was launched for iPhone only. It hasn't been determined when an Android version will be offered, although a statement quoted Veres as saying that version will be available "very soon," said eBay spokesperson Amanda Coffee.

Beyond eBay's first experiment with geofencing, the Best Buy trial also integrates its CRM program. Shoppers can scan their loyalty cards and RedLaser will store the cards and then use that data to flag special discounts for each particular customer.

This presumably works both ways, with Best Buy now able to learn exactly which products any customer scans. In turn, this gets closer to the "knowing what the shopper is thinking about, what they are even casually interested in" nirvana.

Some have compared what eBay's RedLaser is trying with Best Buy to ShopKick (which also happens to work with Best Buy, giving Best Buy a wonderful opportunity to compare the ROI of the two apps side by side). Although both are in similar territory, the instant pop-up RedLaser has created for Best Buy could give the chain an edge if—and this is key—it truly works to consistently deliver attractive offers through RedLaser.

An advantage for ShopKick is, oddly enough, its use of proprietary audio signals to identify the store to the app. RedLaser's reliance on Wi-Fi could be problematic, with not all retailers being so fond of offering customer Wi-Fi. And a deal that Macy's cut with Muzak-owner Mood Media—which has already placed audio speakers in umpteen of the largest retail chains—to send the ShopKick signal over those existing speakers could mean a further edge over RedLaser's Wi-Fi approach.

But the basics that Best Buy is exploring in this trial—limiting items displayed to a specific store's real-time inventory—has arguably huge potential. And if confirming that a shopper is inside a specific store is the most difficult challenge RedLaser faces, it should consider itself very lucky.