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How Widespread Is Geofencing In Market Research?

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?



By Scott Weinberg

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 (it can, though it’s tricky), 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).

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 quick passage: ‘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 Spring of 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?

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3 responses to “How Widespread Is Geofencing In Market Research?

  1. I think the use case you describe is actually more challenging than what’s been communicated to you. Technologically, there is not one location tracking platform that can do it all…The platform/app would likely have to navigate a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the mapping—store, restaurant locations, etc. This business landscape is constantly changing as retailers open and close locations. A Global Positioning System (GPS) would be needed to broadly locate the mobile user via satellite, as well as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and/or Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) set up on site to track the respondent inside the store. Each of these technologies has their strengths and weaknesses but, ultimately, some combination of them is needed to track the user’s location to the “getting ‘pinged’ while walking down the aisle” level. This is the just the logistics. I’ll have to check whether FedEx of UPS can track packages to this degree but, if they currently can’t, like you I would be skeptical towards anybody claiming they could.

    Adding to the challenge is the mobile hardware is not standardized and not all GPS receivers in mobile phones reveal specific latitude and longitude information needed to accurately track the user’s location. There are also cumbersome privacy laws, which telecommunication companies are required to follow with regard to revealing customer information, as well as a sampling perspective that I won’t go into. Ultimately, while I think it can is done in a smaller scope (w/in a certain mile radius, QR codes work-around, sample pre-recruit/smaller qualitatively oriented sample, etc.), I believe some of these infrastructure and development hurdles have to be overcome for random, on-site location based research applications to be feasible and, thus, reach critical acceptance.

    Getting back to your original question—while I think the clients’ aspirational demand is there from a geo-targeting application, I believe there is a limit to what the current solutions can deliver. And this location-based limitation would probably apply to the suppliers who are currently providing mobile offerings.

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