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What’s Retail’s Next Revolution? Indoor Location Data

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Most of us use our phone map apps every day, and we wouldn’t dream of using a paper map to find out “where’s the nearest gas station” or answer other daily questions. GPS data for outside locations sparked a mobile app revolution. It’s about to happen again with indoor location data, with considerable upside for retailers. 

When Apple first introduced indoor mapping in 2017, mall retailers jumped on board to provide mobile access to mall wayfinding as an upgrade to the physical maps at kiosks. Entire businesses now provide indoor mapping for mall or big box customers that integrates data on foot traffic and customer behaviors.

Retailers have discovered that indoor location data is critical to providing customer information to make them productive shoppers, such as offering relevant product offers or directory information in a shopping mall.

Now, extend this logic to your retail employees.

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Think of everything that location data can reveal about frontline workers on the store or warehouse floor:

  • Where do workers spend their time? Where do they congregate?
  • What locations are not visited?
  • Locations relate to tasks, so what tasks are consuming worker time and which are neglected?
  • Locations relate to equipment, so which is being used most?

If retailers are already using indoor data to better engage customers with relevant product offers or give information related to where they stand in a mall, then we can use this data to better engage retail workers when providing on-the-job training. The same logic applies: I care about learning about something when I’m close to it, when I’m about to take some action.

Why should retailers care about using indoor location data for frontline workers?

When it takes at least four to six weeks to get a new worker up to speed and productive, large retailers that can reduce this time by one to two weeks can save millions in operational costs. For example, imagine a large retailer hires 110,000 new workers annually. By reducing the speed to competency by one week, this retailer can save an estimated $44M annually. And by reducing speed to competency by two weeks, it can save an estimated $88M a year.

Retailers need modern workforce tools and training for the frontline in order to quickly train and re-skill frontline staff. But instead, status quo training systems including LMSs, in-person training and job-shadowing are being used.

Here’s why status quo retail training is failing:

  • It only occurs at the start of a job or a few times each year, instead of when it’s needed most or on a continuous basis.
  • It’s boring, or not engaging because it lacks personalization and context.
  • It provides too much information at once, overwhelming workers, and results in poor information retention.
  • It doesn’t teach all the practical skills necessary to do the job.
  • It doesn’t recognize modern learning behavior — we access information as we need it on mobile devices and use how-to videos.

Mobile microlearning does solve a number of these challenges. Retail leaders are coming to terms with the fact that we need to ditch lengthy standard operating procedures and training manuals, and transform the content into easily digestible, bite-sized content delivered to a worker’s mobile device. And on the format front, using quick checklists, task tips and how-to videos makes it easy for workers to consume while in the flow of work.

But microlearning on mobile apps is not enough. Retailers still have to address the issue that workers are overwhelmed with too much information pushed to them at once. We have a filtering problem, and search doesn’t solve it because we’re wasting workers’ time hunting for information, which is costing us in time and productivity.

Effective and faster on-the-job training needs to combine all that we’ve learned about microlearning and also get more sophisticated in how we filter learning to a worker’s physical location and context.

The future of retail training uses contextual learning that is accessible in seconds, all in the flow or work.

Retailers need to stop overwhelming frontline workers by delivering the right learning for their context and location, without taking them out of the flow of work. This technology exists today — with a mobile performance support platform, retailers can use indoor location data to provide contextual learning that is accessible in seconds, all in the flow of work.

Imagine this scenario: a grocery employee, Joel Mullens, shows up for a shift thinking he’s stocking produce, but a colleague is sick and instead he needs to work the deli. Trouble is, he’s senior enough that he’s worked at the deli station before, but it’s been a few months, and sanitization rules and operations are always shifting. How can he get guidance quickly, respecting that higher-up managers are busy given that they are short staffed?

With mobile performance support technology, Joel can use his mobile device to scan a sticker next to the meat slicer to see task guidance and sanitization protocols personalized to that location and his role and experience. Accessing this information has literally taken Joel seconds where it used to take three or more minutes to find — no lookup, no searching.

Retailers that have adopted this technology have experienced a 40X improvement in learning speed at the frontline. This translates into accelerated speed to competency for new workers and continuous re-skilling, allowing retailers to adapt operations quickly.


Tim Regnier is the CEO and Co-founder of Smart Access, a mobile performance support platform that equips retailers to train and re-skill workers faster using technology that’s location-aware. With Smart Access, new hires contribute faster, and businesses can adapt and compete at the new pace of modern retail. Smart Access is Regnier’s third startup. He’s developed a deep understanding of the retail market and the fast pace of commerce-focused business, along with the rare ability to see opportunity and potential in emerging markets.

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