Google's Retail Experiment With In-Store Location Is Encouraging, But Needs Much More Fine-Tuning

When Google on Tuesday (Nov. 29) announced a retail program for inside product tracking—with initial trials from Home Depot, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, IKE, Japan's Mitsukoshi plus the Mall of America—it offered a relatively easy path for in-store navigation for retailers. But it also hasn't licked the most daunting challenge: location precision. Google's not even claiming location accuracy of better than "within several meters."

The Google program, initially limited to Android phones, works by getting detailed floorplans from the retailer. Once the system detects the consumer has entered that address, it defaults to that map and then uses in-store tracking to show the customer's location compared with product aisles. But "several meters" could be dozens of feet in either direction (the term "several" has deliciously vague. Merriam-Webster helpfully defines it as "more than two but fewer than many"). The altitude feature is supposed to know which floor you're on and to display the correct floor map—that's a nice touch—but without more finetuning, it will have trouble navigating someone to the right aisle, let alone within that aisle, as Meijer recently discovered.